I went on a Gerald Durrell re-read binge right before I picked up Watership Down (right after I started reading it, Tristan told me that his book club had picked it, so apparently I am psychic). I am closing in on the finish of Watership Down, but I think I want to dedicate a whole post to it, so I wanted to quickly put up the Durrells. Gerald Durrell, for those of you who don’t know, was a prominent British naturalist and animal rights activist. His brother, Lawrence, wrote the Alexandria Quartet, which is one of my favourite series of novels.
At any rate, Gerald Durrell led a very interesting life, and he wrote a number of books about it. I own most of them, incidentally.
Two in the Bush and Catch Me a Colobus were both about expeditions, and they were funny and enlightening to read. Two in the Bush is about travels in New Zealand, Malaysia and Australia, and it was amazing to read about lyrebirds, takahe, and sloths. The goal with this expedition was to learn more about conservation efforts and the rare animals in these regions, and Durrell made an excellent and impassioned argument for more rigorous protection of the world’s vanishing creatures.
In Catch Me a Colobus, Durrell was on a mission to, well, catch a colobus. Several, actually, and then he went on to catch volcano rabbits in Mexico. This book was especially interesting to me because it documented the process of finding endangered animals, capturing them, and learning how to care for them before shipping them back a conservation park, which in this case was Durrell’s Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. While many conservation parks prefer to trade captive animals with other parks, rather than capturing them in the wild, it is still sometimes necessary to trap animals for their own safety and to preserve their species, so it was interesting to read about how that is done.
Along the way, Durrell dealt with escaping tame leopards, rapacious customs officials, and finicky eaters. The book also briefly touched upon life at the Trust, where Durrell and his various wives (sequential, not all at once) lived when not on expedition. In Menagerie Manor, it was quite fascinating to read about the daily life and work at the zoo, from squashed parrots to pregnant lionesses. The book made me want to visit the Trust; although I can’t meet Durrell, since he’s dead, I could see part of his legacy.
Fillets of Plaice is a collection of anecdotes and short stories which didn’t fit into a single book, but were still worthy of writing and reading about. Durrell has a great writing voice; dry, humorous, and quite intelligent, and it is showcased beautifully in his short stories. “A Question of Promotion” is quite possibly my favourite Durrell story, and there were many moments during the course of this book when I exploded with laughter so violently that my neighbors probably thought I was being murdered. Given that I’ve read Fillets of Plaice countless times, it’s nice to know that it still amuses me.
One thing that I really like about Durrell is that in addition to capturing the absurdity and inanity of life on Earth, he also managed to write in a very compelling but not simpering way about the natural environment and the difficulties it faces. After reading a Durrell, it’s kind of hard not to leap out of your chair to the defense of the environment and all of the awesome animals in it. After reading four in a row, you can imagine that I am pretty riled up.
Menagerie Manor, by Gerald Durrell. Published 1964, 180 pages. Autobiography/nature.
Two in the Bush, by Gerald Durrell. Published 1966, 256 pages. Autobiography/nature.
Fillets of Plaice, by Gerald Durrell. Published 1971, 189 pages. Autobiography/nature.
Catch Me a Colobus, by Gerald Durrell. Published 1972, 221 pages. Autobiography/nature.