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View Full Version : Am I the only one here who reads Gerald Durrell's books?


teela brown
06-01-2005, 03:32 PM
One of the first "grown-up" books I ever read was Gerald Durrell's The Overloaded Ark, and I am still hooked on his work.

GD was an amateur naturalist and zookeeper who wrote books about his animal collecting experiences. He was the younger brother of the novelist Lawrence Durrell, and his brother's literary success encouraged him to start putting his funny and interesting adventures down on paper. He had a very strong sense of humor and a great love of animals which made his stories a joy to read. He used the profits from his books to fund his own zoo, which is located on the Island of Jersey in the English Channel. The zoo was one of the first to devote itself to breeding and restoring endangered species, and it carries on this good work to this day.

I still re-read his best works, which are, in order of my preference:

The Overloaded Ark
My Family and Other Animals
The Bafut Beagles
Birds, Beasts and Relatives

However, I don't know a soul who has ever heard of this man! Surely there are a few Dopers who read Gerald Durrell?

Steve Wright
06-01-2005, 03:55 PM
I've read several ... My Family and Other Animals has to figure somewhere on my list of favourites - especially as I also read Lawrence Durrell's books, and the depiction of wayward brother Larry sheds an interesting light on some of those!

MrDibble
06-01-2005, 04:14 PM
My Family and Other Animals has to be the most laugh-out-loud funny book I've ever read*, while being educational & stimulating curiosity about nature. It's one of my top 3 reads. I can remember being ever so jealous of the young Gerry. I always wanted a Bootlebumtrinket of my very own.

Overloaded Ark was another fave. Nowadays some of it horrifies me, like the setting fields on fire and catching whatever comes out, but I guess those were different times.

He also used to have a TV series called "Ark on the Move" - I seem to remember his wife Lee was a hottie....

*Yes, funnier than Pratchett. Yes, even Good Omens

dangermom
06-01-2005, 04:17 PM
I'm a Gerald-Durrell-ophile. My family and other animals was one of the 5 or so books I took to the dorms in college (no space) way back when, and I've done my best to collect everything I can, though his writing was pretty uneven. The picnic and suchlike pandemonium is my next favorite, or maybe Birds, beasts and other relatives, but I love 'em all.

A huge biography of him came out a few years ago, which I also enjoyed. If you haven't read it yet, it's probably at your library.

merrily
06-01-2005, 04:20 PM
I've also read him, although not lately.

teela brown
06-01-2005, 04:28 PM
A huge biography of him came out a few years ago, which I also enjoyed. If you haven't read it yet, it's probably at your library.

I did indeed read this, and I enjoyed it very much. In fact, the story of the whole Durrell family as related in the book is very interesting. Although I wanted to read about him in general, I confess I was curious as to what happened to his first marriage to Jacquie Durrell. It looks like she just got fed up with being the unthanked behind-the-scenes administrator of Gerald Durrell, Inc., and vamoosed. Afterwards, he met his much younger and pretty American wife, Lee, and it seems he was very possessive and jealous about her. Also interesting was how Leslie was his mother's pet, but later turned out to be the black sheep of the family and was basically estranged from his siblings. Good gossipy stuff!

jayjay
06-01-2005, 04:28 PM
I love his books! I think I read Catch Me A Colobus! when I was about eight years old and I've loved every one since. He did such amazing work with the Jersey Wildlife Fund!

OtakuLoki
06-01-2005, 09:24 PM
Doesn't everyone grow up with Durrell? O_o

Well, then again, my father has a Ph. D. in Herpetology, so... he tried to help me get my mom to let me bring the baby snakes in for the night, too. (Did you know that garter snakes give live birth? Cool! :D)

don Jaime
06-01-2005, 10:02 PM
My family's been scouring book sales since before I was born to get Durrell. He is incredibly hard to find; I still don't have The Drunken Forest. Shame more people don't know about these. The quality tanks with Jacquie's exit, and never really does recover, but there's always a glimmer of great prose in there. Durrell is the man I wish I could write like.

The Bafut Beagles and A Zoo in My Luggage are my favorites. There's a warmth and affection that outshines even the Corfu books. Plus you have to admire the Fon of Bafut's ability to drink a lush like Gerry Durrell under the table. The Whispering Land and The Drunken Forest actually make me want to go to South America and experience all of that, even though it would be next to impossible. Menagerie Manor does the best job of conveying the day-to-day life of a zoo and the Trust's mission, even if the Trust wasn't founded yet. I just wish I knew why N'Pongo the gorilla is male in this book when he was a she in real life. And the novel Rosy is My Relative about the alcoholic elephant is deeply unappreciated.

I should go check my library....

teela brown
06-02-2005, 11:40 AM
In an otherwise uninteresting movie, 1997's Fierce Creatures, you may see the Jersey Zoo. This is a film by the same set of people who filmed A Fish Called Wanda, and I read that John Cleese was a big fan of Gerry Durrell's and caused the movie to be filmed at the Zoo.

jacquilynne
06-02-2005, 11:58 AM
I read them as a teenager. I haven't seen my set of them in years, though. I imagine my mother garage sold them at some point.

Cornelius Tuggerson
06-02-2005, 12:09 PM
I read a whole lot of his stuff and really enjoyed it. One of the things thats bugging me to this day is this short horror story he wrote (it has nothing to do with nature or animals) about some creature in the mirror thats trying to kill a guy in this house. In the end he ends up racing against time trying to break every mirror in the house before the thing emerges. Does anyone remember what that story is called?

Acsenray
06-02-2005, 12:13 PM
I discovered Durrell by chance in my early 20s when I was looking for a book on tape to take with me on a long drive. I've read several of his works. I prefer the personal and family memoirs to the ones that are mostly just about zoology.

I love the humour of the stories. I thought I was the only American who had ever heard of him. I liked the miniseries that was aired on Disney about 15 years ago (for some reason, though, the sound quality was very poor).

I also have a copy of the memoir that the sister published a couple of years ago. I didn't find it all that interesting.

I have several copies of Lawrence Durrell's novels, but I have found them hard going and haven't finished any of them. I guess I'm not smart enough.

What did happen with Leslie?

teela brown
06-02-2005, 12:52 PM
What did happen with Leslie?

Lemme see, it has been a couple of years since I read the book. He was Mrs. Durrell's favorite child, and this caused the famous in-fighting between him and Larry as portrayed in the books. He fathered a child with one of the family's Greek maids, and the son has never been acknowledged by the family. He became a dipsomaniac and took up with a woman running a hunting preserve in Africa, and turned up now and again to ask for money from his famous brothers. They basically wrote him off and were afraid his antics would become publicised and ruin their careers. That's IIRC; I should go back and read the biography again.

dangermom
06-02-2005, 04:20 PM
I read a whole lot of his stuff and really enjoyed it. One of the things thats bugging me to this day is this short horror story he wrote (it has nothing to do with nature or animals) about some creature in the mirror thats trying to kill a guy in this house. In the end he ends up racing against time trying to break every mirror in the house before the thing emerges. Does anyone remember what that story is called?It's "The Entrance," in The picnic and suchlike pandemonium, and it freaked me the heck out. I'm not a horror person.

Steve Wright
06-02-2005, 04:27 PM
I have several copies of Lawrence Durrell's novels, but I have found them hard going and haven't finished any of them. I guess I'm not smart enough.
I would be the last to deny that Lawrence Durrell's stuff can be tough going ... but I find they're rewarding in the end.

(I bounced off the first line of the Alexandria Quartet ... slammed the book shut and didn't open it again for three years. In the interim, I read My Family and Other Animals - and that really did make a difference, funnily enough!)

Cornelius Tuggerson
06-02-2005, 04:45 PM
It's "The Entrance," in The picnic and suchlike pandemonium, and it freaked me the heck out. I'm not a horror person.
Oh I remember now, yeah I was really scared when I read it too, not what I expected from a Durrel short story thats for sure. I guess the story about a small french hotel serving processed human meat should have prepared me for it though. :eek:

don Jaime
06-02-2005, 09:52 PM
What did happen with Leslie?

Teela's got most of it, but Leslie and his wife also bilked an old woman in Kenya out of a whole lot of money. I believe Mother Durrell gave him enough to keep him out of prison, but both Larry and Gerry were furious and wrote him off.

I bought an old copy of Larry's Justine a few months back. I can't get into it. It's like reading a hippie's acid ramblings. This looks like one to skip around in.

manx
06-02-2005, 10:21 PM
I read a bunch of his books when I was a kid - a friend's mother thought i'd like thm and lent them to me. She was right - they were great books. I look for them in second hand bookshops, but I've only been able to find one so far. I can't remember what it's called, but it has a bit where him and his companion spend an afternoon looking for delicious turtle eggs. Different world back then, it seems.

mcms_cricket
06-03-2005, 11:08 AM
I love Gerald Durrell! I discovered My Family and Other Animals in the school library when I was 13 and have since read everything he's written (multiple times). My favorites are the Corfu books (I think there are three of them?) and the early collecting books. I have to agree with what someone said upthread about the books written "after Jacquie" are not as good.

I also read the biography a few years ago. I enjoyed it, but kind of wish I hadn't read it. I guess I want to think of the family the way they are portrayed in the Corfut books - I don't want to know about the warts!

I remember seeing Fierce Creatures when it came out and when the credits ran, there's an "in memoriam" to Durrell and that was the first time I realized he'd passed away. However, it was exciting to realize that I'd just seen, on screen, the zoo I'd been reading about for so long.

Jennyrosity
06-03-2005, 11:29 AM
Weird, I was going to start a thread about this myself. I read My Family and Other Animals a few years ago and loved it - it's still one of my favourite books and the only one to make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I read it.

The Entrance is just about the scariest thing I've ever read. I read alone in a candle-lit room one night in Greece and nearly frightened myself to death.

teela brown
06-03-2005, 03:04 PM
I remembered a cool thing in the biography that I wanted to mention. When Gerry was still alive, the Jersey Zoo was having some kind of milestone or anniversary, and the staff presented him with a handcrafted silver matchbox. The matchbox opened like a regular matchbox, and inside were a silver mother scorpion and several silver scorpion babies. You readers of My Family And Other Animals will remember the scorpion/matchbox incident - which was one of the funniest things he ever wrote. I was very touched by the zoo staff's memory of this chapter and the appropriateness of the gift.