As fiction, this book would be hilarious but too riotously fun and absurd to be believable. Since it is the autobiographical account of the Durrell family’s five years in the mad Greek island of Corfu, it is just a brilliantly funny book.
Gerald was around ten years old at the time, and obsessed with all creatures – snakes, scorpions, magpies, dogs, beetles, geckos, trap-door spiders – everything. It was an obsession that remained – you may have heard of his wildlife preserves and/or documentaries.
The peculiar characters of the island (and, more importantly, of the Durrell family) are brilliantly realised in all their glory.
It’s very difficult to describe the book, so I’ll just give you a glimpse and let you see for yourselves. This takes place on a dull afternoon when the entire family was ill except Larry (a WRITER), who was feeling morose. . .
At length, glancing moodily round the room, he decided to attack Mother, as being the obvious cause of the trouble.
“Why do we stand this bloody climate?” he asked suddenly, making a gesture to the rain-distorted window. “Look at it! And come to that, look at us. . . Margo swollen up like a plate of scarlet porridge. . . Leslie wandering around with fourteen fathoms of cotton wool in each ear. . . Gerry sounds as though he’s had a cleft palate from birth. . . And look at you: you’re looking more decrepit and hag-ridden every day.”
Mother peered over the top of a large volume entitled Easy Recipes From Rajputana.
“Indeed I’m not,” she said indignantly.
“You ARE,” Larry insisted; “you’re beginning to look like an Irish washerwoman. . . and your family looks like a series of illustrations from a medical encyclopedia.”
Mother could think of no really crushing reply to this, so she contented herself with a glare before retreating once more behind her book.
“What we need is sunshine,” Larry continued; “don’t you agree, Les? . . . Les? . . . LES!”
Leslie unravelled a large quantity of cotton-wool from one ear.
“What d’you say?” he asked.
“There you are!” said Larry, turning triumphantly to Mother, “it’s become a major operation to hold a conversation with him. I ask you, what a position to be in! One brother can’t hear what you say, and the other one can’t be understood. Really, it’s time something was done. I can’t be expected to produce deathless prose in an atmosphere of gloom and eucalyptus.”
“Yes, dear,” said Mother vaguely.
“What we all need,” said Larry, getting into his stride again, “is SUNSHINE. . . a country where we can GROW.”
“Yes, dear, that would be nice,” agreed Mother, not really listening.