Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell is one of the authors I remember with fondness from my childhood. The Overloaded Ark was on the shelf and I must have read it at a fairly young age. It had such charm that when I started selling books I made certain to pick up every copy of his works I possibly could with the theory that if I liked it someone else would. That theory must have worked as I have very few copies left.

Gerald Durrell was a totally amazing man, he led a busy life as a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author, and television presenter. He wrote about his life as an animal collector and enthusiast. He spent a great deal of time setting up the Jersey Zoo and Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (both are now named after him) and from there influenced zoos worldwide in restructuring the habitats for their animals to make them more like the place they came from and also began the first successful captive breeding programme.

I love reading his works they are such a delight. He had a wonderful way of painting people with words and painting animals so that you saw the character in the animal. I’ll just highlight one of the many books he wrote, The Overloaded Ark. I’ve managed to pick up a 1957 paperback edition and it’s very exciting to dip into it just for this review. In the prelude he shows that life in the Cameroons has a different sense of time to life here (or, at least it did back then, I can’t say what it’s like now) and he depicts a driver ant attack while he’s getting his hair cut at the same time as he bought a pair of baby drills. He manages to make the whole scene terribly funny despite describing their bites as agonising. There’s a chapter about a chimp called Cholmondeley, pronounced Chumley, who was a great character. He always wanted to be the life and soul of every occasion, the centre of attention. He apparently became a great television star until he began to have trouble with his teeth, after a couple of escapades in which Durrell describes how Chumley was just trying to get to a party he was put down. The manner in which Durrell writes about Chumley makes you feel he was human and not chimp.

Anyway, this is just one of the wonderful books he wrote. All of the ones I’ve read have the same style and same wonderful paintings of people and character in the animals we see, and we see plenty of animals. This particular copy is not for sale as it remains on my shelf along with about a dozen of his other books.

You might have seen a TV adaptation of one of his works called My Family and Other Animals. In looking them up in IMDB I found two instances. One was a series released in 1987 with Darren Redmayne as Gerald while the other one released in 2005 had Eugene Simon as Gerald. I don’t recall the first but the second one was quite good and gave a very good sense of the book.