The beauty of reasonable TV Dramatisations is that they makes you want to return to the source material.
The same has happened with the New Series called "The Durrells "which is just a remake of the 80s Show “ My Family and Other Animals” which as a child was a Favourite in our house.
The first book in Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy also bears this name.
The new ITV adaptation features Mother Louisa much more heavily, but the book itself is treasure trove of observation and fun anecdote from one of the most renowned British Naturalists of the Post War period.
I read the book again in one tremendous gulp, it took longer as a child, but it was like coming home to a warm bed this reacquaintance with the Family and Island that had delighted me in my youth.
Taken as a small boy from dreary Sussex to the beautiful and wild Greek Island of Corfu with his three siblings and his widowed Mother, Gerry begins what will be a lifelong obsession with the Natural world. His discoveries and the beautiful descriptions of the Flora and Fauna are what keeps this book fresh to any modern reader.
The smallest creatures become infinitely fascinating under Gerry’s watchful gaze. Descriptions of scorpions, Ladybirds and Earwigs stay with me even now.
(Earwigs held a dark fascination for me as a child too as some cohort told me that they bury themselves into your brain if they get in your ears and when I got a nip from one, I was scared stiff that it had entered me and would end up in my cranium before night fell. It is only after I read the book as a child that my vile opinion of earwigs was tempered.)
It is Gerry’s propensity to bring an awful lot of those creatures inside in jars and placing it in any other carelessly left receptacles that mean bumble bees fly out of cigarette cases and sea slugs appear on dressing tables and in one chaotic encounter a scorpion and her babies projected into the the middle of the dinner table.
I think the descriptions of the tortoises to be found in the hills near the family’s second Villa is one of my favourite descriptive portions of a book I have ever read, at once hilarious and desperately interesting. The strangely fertile Madame Cyclops is my spirit animal, my twin to all intents and purposes being a one eyed lady of delicacy!
The family themselves are worthy of a scientist’s gaze. Laurence is a wannabe writer ( his eventual success in this arena meant that both he and Gerry would be published in their time).
His mild disdain for anything pedestrian or mundane provides much amusement as does his gluttony and eventual discomforting dyspepsia, raises a smile.
His “High Brow” friends become a constant source of stress to his mother as the arrive en masse at the tiny villa so Larry can talk about art and literature with like minded folk.
Leslie is a simple creature of outdoor pursuits, most notably shooting and sailing which causes much disconcerting explosive retorts from pistols at tin cans. His adoration for his new rifle is almost indecent! Greeks even today hold firearms in great regard so young Leslie is soon at home.
Margo is a flighty girl, keen on floaty clothes and skimpy swim wear whose knowledge of diets knows no bounds and mum Louisa is a long suffering matriarch at intervals corralling and releasing her brood onto the world, a free spirit from a world of English Conservatism whose exuberance with cuisine and her garden reveals a rebel under respectable skirts.
The Greek Characters are just as loveable.
Cabbie cum- Can -Do –Man, Spiros who quite literally picks up the family in a taxi and never really lets them go again, is a booming bear of a man whose presence in the Durell Family’s life is a constant entertainment and bemusement, but he is in truth one of the family by story’s end. You feel quite glad that he keeps an eye on them all. The one of the young men Margot befriends brings much dramatic ire.
“Did you know Mrs Durrells, Missy Margot,she meeting a mans? Did you know he is a Turk !!!? Golly Mrs Durrells , honest to Gods ! He’ll slit her throat!”
Methinks it would have been better for her to have taken his advice! The beleaguered Turk leads both Margot and Mrs Durrell through a calamitous first date involving sticky Turkish delight and fleas.
And sweetly shy, but learned and enthusiastic Theo, a scientist who like a kindred spirit is drawn to Gerry on their first meeting, is perhaps my favourite character of all, his faltering delivery disguises an encyclopaedic knowledge of all manner of Natural phenomena which young Gerry fairly laps up like a cat after cream. Theo seems to me to be just the kind of friend an adventurous boy might want, (but let’s be honest this Forty Year old woman would love him too) a font of tremendous knowledge who speaks with Gerry as an equal and so never patronises or mocks and the family learn to rely on him for good counsel in times of trial.
I cannot recommend this book higher and it seems to me the perfect little book to read on a plane out to sunnier climates for your own Mediterranean Adventures. Make sure you seek out Spiro or a man of his ilk at the Taxi rank though!
Gollys you will not regret it!