Review 1342: The Garden of the Gods

Cover for Garden of the GodsThe Garden of the Gods is a fitting conclusion to Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy. In the book, we meet a few more eccentric characters and are treated to funny events and lush descriptions of the island of Corfu.

The centerpiece of this book is a visit to Corfu by the King of Greece. This event brings about a multitude of opportunities for incompetently executed patriotic displays.

One of the most entrancing new characters is Jeejee, a visitor from India whom Mrs. Durrell takes for royalty because of his first name, Prince. (That is, Larry sends her a letter saying that Prince Jeejee is arriving for a visit.) He is a charming person who entertains us with his attempts at levitation.

Cover for the Corfu TrilogyThe final chapters of the book deal with a typically over-the-top party that the Durrells throw for Jeejee’s birthday. All goes well until Margo’s cabaret, in which the various characters entertain the other guests with acts that include an interminable saucy sea chanty by Captain Creech and an escape act by Mr. Kralefsky and Theodore that goes badly wrong.

The trilogy is funny and entertaining. Although the first book is the source of the original Masterpiece series, the newer series is suggested by characters and events in the last two books. I think most people would enjoy these memoirs.

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Day 1294: Birds, Beasts, and Relatives

Cover for Birds, Beasts, and RelativesWhen I began reading this sequel to Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, I assumed it would begin sometime after the first book, which ended with the Durrells leaving Corfu and heading back to England. Instead, it seemed to be about to cover the same ground, starting with an abbreviated account of their arrival.

Cover for the Corfu TrilogyAlthough this novel is slightly repetitious of the previous one, briefly reintroducing some characters and summarizing important events, for the most part it covers different events and introduces new characters. We meet Larry’s friends Max and Donald when they arrive at the house, drunk, at 2 AM. We also meet the disreputable Captain Creech, and Sven, the accordian-playing sculptor. There are also old friends like Theodore and Spiro.

The book relates memorable events, such as what happens when Margo agrees to take care of Gerry’s baby hedgehogs and how the family receive a performing bear that follows Gerry home one day. Although I began the book worried that this memoir would cover too much of the same material, I ended up charmed again by the stories of this eccentric family and their stay in Corfu.

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Day 1281: My Family and Other Animals

Cover for My Family and Other AnimalsI first was charmed by My Family and Other Animals many years ago, but it is only recently that I learned it was part of a trilogy. So, I am reading it again to kick off the trilogy.

Gerald Durrell was a boy in 1935 when an impulsive decision on a dreary summer day lead to his family deciding to move to Corfu. This book is an account of the indefinite period of their life there before Mrs. Durrell decides they must move back to England for Gerry’s continued education.

The Durrell family members are all the types of people who know their own interests from an early age. Larry, who becomes the well-known literary novelist Lawrence Durrell, fills the house with his literary and artistic friends. In fact, the family is forced to move to a larger villa to accommodate them. Leslie is interested in hunting and is constantly shooting things. Margo likes sunbathing and clothes and has an atrocious taste in young men. With Gerry, it’s animals, and he proceeds to fill the house with them.

Cover for the Corfu TrilogyThis memoir is very funny, with a humor that derives from the family just being themselves and the eccentric friends they make. It also has lush, gorgeous, and sometimes stunning descriptions of the setting and flora. Durrell says that he intended to write a book about Corfu’s flora and fauna, but his family kept intruding.

Whether the family decides to give a small party and just invite ten people—at which point each of them invites ten—journey off on an outing in a perfectly round boat, or give another party when the dog is in heat and snakes are in the bathtub, I assure you, you’ll be laughing.

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Day 144: This Rough Magic

Cover for This Rough MagicBest Book of the Week!

When I want to read something light, I re-read one of two authors who have been favorites for years. One of them is Mary Stewart, best known for her Merlin trilogy, which is excellent. However, it is her romantic suspense novels written from the 1950’s through the 70’s that I love to read. She continued writing into the 90’s until she was 85 years old, but her best romantic suspense work is from this earlier period.

Most of Stewart’s novels take place in exotic locales and feature appealing, literate heroines with a habit of quoting poetry. I am not normally a romance reader, although I like a good romantic suspense novel. Stewart’s books are well written, her characters intelligent and sympathetic, and her stories so well plotted that I go back to them again and again. Her descriptions of the settings are so vivid that on my travels I have caught myself looking out for places she has written about, although sadly, most of them no longer much resemble the out-of-the way places she described.

For this review, I’ve picked one of my favorite Mary Stewart novels, This Rough Magic. Lucy Waring is an actress on vacation in Corfu visiting her pregnant sister, Phyllida Forli. The Forlis are a wealthy Italian banking family who own three houses around a private bay on the island. The big gothic main house is occupied by a tenant about whom Phyllida is teasingly secretive. The other house is rented by a photographer named Godfrey Manning, who has been spending some of his time photographing Spiro, the teenage twin brother of the Forli’s housekeeper’s daughter, Miranda, swimming with a dolphin.

Lucy soon meets one of the tenants of the main house, a man who thinks she is a trespasser and tries to throw her off the property. But she is then welcomed to the house by the other occupant, the famous Shakespearean actor Julian Gale, in retirement since the tragic death of his wife and daughter. He entertains her with his theory that Corfu is the setting for The Tempest, a theory he has also related to Miranda and Spiro, as he is their godfather. The other man is Julian’s son, Max, a well-known composer. Although Julian is charming, Max is gruff and unwelcoming, and Lucy can tell something is wrong with the Gales. Later, at the Forli’s house, Lucy meets Godfrey Manning, a dashing man who is ready to admire her.

Lucy’s island idyll is broken in one harrowing day. First, when she is swimming in the bay with the dolphin, someone fires a gun at the animal, and the bullet almost hits Lucy. After a big argument with Max, whom she suspects of doing the shooting, she goes back to the Forli house to find Phyllida in distress. Godfrey has just returned from a shipboard night photography expedition to report that Spiro fell overboard and drowned. Lucy also thinks that Max met with one of the island’s smugglers, who is later found dead. Smuggling is rife between Corfu and Albania, still at that time very isolated and located across a narrow body of water from the island.

Suddenly there is a lot going on in this island paradise, and Lucy finds herself thrown into danger when Miranda confides that she has found Prospero’s books, which of course he dumped in a lake at the end of The Tempest. Loaded with atmosphere and truly gripping, This Rough Magic is a great novel to read when you just want to relax.