It opens with a 'Speech for the defence', which is part disclaimer, part explanation, of how Gerald Durrell (aged ten) and his family came to move from England to Corfu. He dedicates the book to his mother: 'As my brother Larry points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us.'
It's a madcap story, hijink-filled, and so engagingly, laugh-out-loudingly written by Gerald twenty years later. The descriptions of Corfu, and their life there are detailed, original and so very funny when they need to be.
We ate breakfast out in the garden, under the small tangerine-trees. The sky was fresh and shining, not yet the fierce blue of noon, but a clear milky opal. The flowers were half-asleep, roses dew-crumpled, marigolds still tightly shut. Breakfast was, on the whole, a leisurely and silent meal, for no member of the family was very talkative at that hour. By the end of the meal the influence of coffee, toast, and eggs made itself felt, and we started to revive, to tell each other what we intended to do, why we had intended to do it, and then argue earnestly as to whether each had made a wise decision.
Gerry's best friend is his dog, Roger - obviously something quite dear to my heart - and their master and faithful pet relationship is delightful.
In those early days of exploration Roger was my constant companion. Together we ventured farther and farther afield, discovering quiet, remote olive groves which had to be investigated and remembered, working our way through a maze of blackbird haunted myrtles, venturing into narrow valleys where the cypress-trees cast a cloak of mysterious, inky shadow. He was the perfect companion for an adventure, affectionate without exuberance, brave without being belligerent, intelligent and full of good-humoured tolerance for my eccentricities. If I slipped when climbing a dewy shiny bank - Roger appeared suddenly, gave a snort that sounded like suppressed laughter, a quick look over, a rapid lick of commiseration, shook himself, sneezed and gave me a lop-sided grin. If I found something that interested me - an ant's nest, a caterpillar on a leaf, a spider wrapping up a fly in swaddling clothes of silk – Roger sat down and waited until I had finished examining it. If he thought I was taking too long, he shifted nearer, gave a gentle whiny yawn, and then sighed deeply and started to wag his tail. If the matter was of no great importance, we would move on, but if it was something absorbing that had to be pored over, I had only to frown at Roger and he would realize it was going to be a long job. His ears would droop, his tail slow down and stop, and he would slouch off to the nearest bush, fling himself down in the shade, giving me a martyred look as he did so.
The animals, the people. It's wonderful and hilarious. Mother's voluminous bathing costume, Larry's friends who come and go, the bats, turtles, dogs, snakes, lizards, mantids. Gerry's boat, The Bootle-Bumtrinket ('it was not only an unusual name, but an aristocratically hyphenated one as well') and the general anarchy of their house, particularly Gerry's birthday party pandemonium.
Most definitely makes me want to move to Greece.