Gerald Durrell nails it in his autobiographical book that describes his family’s adventures in the Greek island of Corfu. Somerset Maugham too has described the enchanting islands in Greece when he has spoken of his trips to Capri – a popular short story ‘The Lotus Eater’ is based on the same.
A fitting tribute to the family and its crazy association with a variety of animals is paid by a Passport Inspector who checks their entry at the Swiss frontier and succinctly sums up the assembly to be : ‘one travelling Circus and Staff’.
Gerry’s adventures go beyond the sunshine and the salubrious climate. Gnarled Olive Trees, sweet Grape vines, humorous and cheerful locals, enchanting locales with greenery, sea and sunshine do abound in the narrative. But in equal measure the tale is made fun by the antics of the family as well as the animals Gerry finds during his wild exploits.
His family whom he accompanies to the island comprises of his mother, his elder siblings Larry, Leslie and Margaret. Larry is an aspiring writer and indeed becomes a prominent one eventually. In the narrative he is seen to be the most idle and solitary character whose role often is to pass caustic commentary and provided unsolicited advice. He is almost like an armchair philosopher and it would have been quite difficult to take much interest in him but for his escapades.
He gets entangled with Gerry and his animals on many occasions – Magpies ruin his books and room, a scorpion pops at him when he innocently opens a match box to light his cigarette, a pigeon disturbs his sleep by poking his eye with its rear end etc. Yet the family tends to rally around Gerry as Margaret openly supports him and says Larry should mind his own business. And mother, who usually has the final word on a matter, tends to be indulgent as well.
Leslie is an enthusiastic amateur hunter and is forever using his gun to further his exploits. Even he has run-ins with Larry’s menagerie but he is mostly sportive about it. At best he gets angrily momentarily but soon enough lets go of the issue. He even helps Gerry get his own boat.
Margo is a marginal character and not much is mentioned about her in story except she is portrayed to be a kind-hearted but silly girl. She draws a bit of notice when she falls in love with a family friend who was also Gerry’s tutor. The family ensure that the affair is quelled – Margo mopes about it for a while and things finally resolve themselves.
Spiro, a resident taxi driver who does the honour of knowing pidgin English since he has worked abroad, acts as the general factotum for the family and assists them through the hassle of managing customs, finding appropriate villas to stay in and in general organizes whatever is the need of the hour.
Gerry’s naturalistic instincts belie his age – he is into collecting all kinds of samples of natural life including scorpions, pigeon, dogs, magpies, water snakes, tortoise, water snakes, gold-fish, gull etc. And he is adept at unearthing interesting specimens that attract the admiration of his guide and mentor Dr. Theodore Stephanides. Theo also has an interesting anecdotes that he narrates in his inimitable style much to the amusement of his listeners.
There is an extreme amount of violence in the natural world and Gerry often depicts the stories in great detail. It is truly a jungle meant for the fittest and the most adaptable.
Gerry’s family is spirited and constantly engaged in activity. Often enough they are entertaining many of their friends who pop over to spend some time at the exotic location. Else they are off on adventures exploring the islands and its mysteries. They are very outgoing in their approach and it is a treat to watch them treat Gerry on an equal footing and respecting his opinion and demands.
Gerry displays amazing knowledge and command regarding all that he surveys – it is humbling to note that a young boy who is not even formally educated is so well aware of his environment and is able to provide us such great narratives from the natural world. So don’t miss out on reading this classic book any time you happen to find it.