This is one of the few books in which men, women, children and even reluctant readers find pleasure.
Having revisited it for the umpteenth time this summer I was struck by how very broad the stroke of Durrell’s brush is in his account of the relatively short period of time in which his family lived in Corfu, and how very pleasurable reading about the five years was.
I imagine this is because his family and the various other animals they cohabit with and encounter (willingly and unwillingly), are described by Durrell warmly, with eccentricity and without discrimination – even when the animals behave with more decorum than the Durrells.
The desert island disc conundrum of which book to pack is consistently resolved by this book, which probably tells you more about its infinite charm than more words of my own can. Fail to read it at your peril.
‘Two or three males, travelling at what – for a tortoise – was a gallop, would generally converge on the same female. They would arrive, out of breath and inflamed with passion, and glare at each other, their throats gulping convulsively. Then they would prepare to do battle… These fights seemed to me the most ill-organised and unnecessary affairs, for it was not always the strongest tortoise that won; with good terrain in his favour a small specimen could easily overturn one twice his size. Nor, indeed, was it invariably one of the warriors that got the lady, for on several occasions I saw a female wander away from a pair of fighting males to be accosted by a complete stranger (who had not even chipped his shell on her behalf) and go off with him quite happily.’
‘ ‘I don’t profess to being a hairy-chested man of action,’ said Larry austerely. ‘My place is in the realm of ideas – the brain work, as it were. I put my brain at your disposal for the formation of schemes and stratagems and then you, the muscular ones, carry them out.’
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, £7.29 at foyles.co.uk.