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May 2007
The Corfu Trilogy - Gerald Durrell - Penguin, 2006
* * * * *
Everyone, I think, has their personal paradise, the landscape that they see in their mind’s eye when they imagine somewhere where they might be perfectly happy. For some it may be the rolling English countryside, a tropical palm-fringed beach, the buzzing metropolis of New York or the peaks of the Himalayas (for my friend Hugo, who has a snowman in his ancestry, it’s probably the Arctic). My personal paradise is Greece and in particular the Greek islands, and I think it is Gerald Durrell who is largely responsible for imprinting this landscape on my imagination. I read Birds, Beasts and Relatives, the middle volume of his Corfu trilogy, at a very tender age, and was so taken with its depiction of his idyllic naturalist’s childhood and hilariously eccentric family that I re-read it over and over again. In fact I think it’s the book that I have re-read the most. It was some years later that I got round to its more famous predecessor, My Family and Other Animals, which perversely I didn’t like as much.

Re-reading books we enjoyed in our early years can be an exercise fraught with peril. As Terry Pratchett has remarked: “At 17, if you don't think The Lord of the Rings is the greatest contribution to literature, there's something wrong with your head (...) If you still think that at 50, there's definitely something wrong with your head.” I therefore approached the task with some trepidation. Would the written-out hesitations in Theodore’s dialogue now be annoying rather than endearing? Would Durrell’s affectionate but satirical depictions of his relatives now seem crass or puerile? Would the third book, The Garden of the Gods, which I hadn’t read before, prove to be an inferior sequel that took the shine off its predecessors? Would, in short, my personal paradise be destroyed? The answer, I am pleased to report, is no. These books are classics and transcend the law of diminishing re-read returns.
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