Book Review: Birds, Beasts and Relatives by Gerald Durrell

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s funny how books and TV can set each other off sometimes. A writer gets a hit book, it becomes a hit movie or TV show and that encourages the writer to write more books in the series – that kind of thing. In my case here, with Gerald Durrell’s second outing of stories about his family living in Corfu before the WWII, the entanglement with TV is with me, not the author.

I read Durrell’s first, and most famous book, ‘My Family and Other Animals‘ not too long ago and, inspired by the joy of this book, decided to watch the TV series, ‘The Durrells’. While the series is a complete reimagining of the stories by Gerald Durrell, it is a creation I feel the author would have been proud to be associated with (and indeed the series was written with the permission of the Durrell Estate). I loved it. Absolutely loved it. The lifestyle the family enjoyed in Corfu and their adventures reminds me very much of my own family’s life in Bangladesh (we were nearly as eccentric) mixed with very fond memories of long working holidays in the South of France back in early post-university days.

I also enjoyed the beautiful and wonderful Keeley Hawes playing the long-suffering mother, Louisa Durrell. While all the actors were faultless, the reimagining of the story centred around her and her failed love life was a stroke of genius and Hawes plays it to perfection. But this whole re-centring, as the seasons continued, led me to wonder just how much of the original books was left. Having only read the first, the series had long left that behind in the first few episodes and there were numerous characters I didn’t recognise. Had they all been invented by the TV producers?

I had to find out. So I picked up this second book and set out to find out. The book throws us back into those Corfu days, as if the family had never left, with the author deliberately choosing to write the stories which got left out last time. And there they all were – the characters. Sven, the countess, Dr Theodore Stephanides and many more. Much of the TV stories are there too, albeit in different forms such as the Séance and a certain lecherous old drunkard sea captain.

Just as the first book made me want to see the TV series, so the series made me want to read the next book. And in doing so, I was able to enjoy said second book much more by imagining all the characters as the actors who played them, and the home and surroundings just as they were on screen. While many find the visual screen ruins the book, in this case the series enhanced it. It was all rather lovely.

But is my journey with Gerry and his eccentric family all done with now for me? Perhaps. I believe the series has now come to an end with no further seasons planned, which I think is very sad. I will miss all the characters. I’m not sure if I want to read the last book in the trilogy as there is just a little bit a sense of repetitiveness and mundanity to the stories which I’m not sure compel me to finish it off. Plus, I notice in this second book, like the first, that Durrell as a boy didn’t half meet a lot of older men who ‘took an unusual interest’ in him. I may be rather suspicious but either Gerald Durrell is one of the luckiest boys alive to have known so many kind and generous older benefactors who meant him no harm, or he had undealt with abuse issues which he never raises in these stories. Not knowing makes me feel slightly queasy.

The only caveat is that in the TV series much is made of the attractiveness of Louisa Durrell and her many attempts of finding love. I do wonder what this is based on. I note that, outside of the ‘Corfu Trilogy’ there is another book by the author called ‘Marrying off Mother and other stories’. It may well by that I eventually give in to temptation and get a copy. I’m certainly intrigued.

Bar that curiosity though, I think my Corfu days are done with. It has been a very pleasant romp and I really do wish there would be more episodes to come on TV. But Durrell, like Herriot, is a lovely writer whose stories do, eventually, become a little insipid and ‘samey’. Nevertheless, I will always be grateful to him for introducing me to his family and his world. How special they are.



Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, will be published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.

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