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gertrude

September 2017

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The Durrells of Corfu, Michael Haag



This book has been published to coincide with the start of the new series of The Durrells on ITV. I’ll say nothing about the programme. If you watched it with your critical hat on, you’d spend the whole time tutting, ‘Tsk! It wasn’t like that at all!’ So it’s better just to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Much of The Durrells of Corfu is, unsurprisingly, about the time the family spent on Corfu. It’s very dependent on Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, while pointing out discrepancies between Gerry’s account and the facts. But the Durrells spent only a few idyllic years of their long lives on Corfu. What happened before and afterwards? This is where Haag’s book is so interesting. Louisa Durrell was born in India and knew no other life, yet when her husband died young she upped sticks and moved ‘home’, first to London and then Bournemouth. The children were rarely living in the same place together for long and Gerry, by far the youngest child, lived alone with his mother for much of the time. Imagine her loneliness! No wonder she took to drink.

Even more interesting is ‘what happened next’. The only members of the family to make a real success of life were the eldest, Larry (author of The Alexandria Quartet), and Gerry. It’s ironic that we read in MFAOA of Larry carrying on about his ‘deathless prose’ and the difficulties of writing in the midst of a menagerie, yet it was Gerry, the boy who had no formal education after he was nine, who wrote the best sellers. He was only able to develop the way he did thanks to Larry and the remarkable Theodore Stephanides. Larry wrote for the love of writing, Gerry solely to raise money for his animal hunting expeditions. I re-read My Family and Other Animals immediately before reading Haag’s book and was reminded that it’s pretty well perfect. The way Gerald was able to twist the facts just enough to make a funny and beautiful story out of what was a risky venture into the unknown, is masterly. Yet he was virtually uneducated except in natural history.

This is a short book. It arrived one evening and I finished it the next. I opted for the paperback rather than the Kindle version because of the photographs and I recommend anyone else to do the same. There’s a lot of local interest for me because various family members lived in Bournemouth (not far from me) both before and after Corfu. The Durrells of Corfu is carefully researched yet reads as easily as a novel.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Thanks for this. I'd like to read it. Very interesting family.
I enjoyed the book. They certainly were an interesting family. Margo said, 'I never know what's fact and what's fiction in my family.'

(Anonymous)

Well, you know I enjoy the TV series :) I think they use Gerald's books as a basis for the TV series but not a faithful blow by blow account. It's an utterly charming series with some good performances and a wonderful location. It's probably best to take it as just that.

They were a strange family in many ways, particularly Leslie. Apparently none of his siblings attended his funeral which I thought was rather sad given the interesting life they had together as children and teenagers.
There's no mention of Leslie's funeral in the book, just his death. The family can't have approved of his life but you'd think one of them could have made it to the funeral.
Hello after a long absence (which I hadn't intended)

I watched a bit of the first series and did tut a lot, while wondering about the relative veracity of GD's account and the usual tendency of television not to let truth get in the way of a good story. Reading your comments I think I'll try and get this from the library - I'd like to see the photographs as well as read it. I'm interested in the relationship between Gerald and Larry, who may not have written the bestsellers but has long been one of my favourite authors.
Welcome back!

It's interesting that, for all his bohemianism, Larry was the grown up in the family. I read The Alexandria Quartet when I was very young, still at school. I liked the books then but don't know what I'd make of them now. Bitter Lemons I liked. The one I'm keen to read now is Prospero's Cell, about Corfu.