October 2005
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Day October 26, 2005

Books #51 and 52: Fillets of Plaice and Two in the Bush

I needed some “fun” reading while up on Saltspring Island, and picked up “Fillets of Plaice” and “Two in the Bush” by Gerald Durrell, at Sabine’s Fine Used Books in Ganges. For those who are unfamiliar with Gerry Durrell, he’s the younger brother of novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell (Alexandria Quartet, Bitter Lemons, Reflections of a Marine Venus), and author of what is likely my “most-re-read” book of all time, My Family and Other Animals.

Fillets of Plaice begins with a reminiscence between Gerry and Lawrence (who apparently suggested the book’s title as a terrible pun on his own Spirit of Place), and continues with several very funny stories set during the author’s childhood on Corfu, and featuring the return of Theodore, Spiro, and other well-loved characters from MFAOA. The book also featured a hilarious story about one of Durrell’s early loves, and an animal collecting tale from Cameroon. As with all of Durrell’s books, however, this one was finished far too quickly, and just before I got on the ferry today I picked up Two in the Bush for the ride back to Tsawassen. I just started it, and I’m hooked.

Two in the Bush is more typical of Durrell’s later books, chronicling a trip to New Zealand, Australia, and then-Malaya to film endangered species for BBC television. The stories occupy the space between zoology, humor, and personal reminiscence, and are hilarious.

A note on “My Family and Other Animals”. I first encountered the book at a young age, in first or second grade, finding a used copy for sale at my elementary school’s annual book sale. I was immediately entranced by Durrell’s adventures in Corfu collecting animals and enjoying childhood in the Greek sunshine. At the time I had no clue who Lawrence Durrell was, other than apparently being a writer of some sort. Over the years I’ve lost — more likely worn out — that original copy, but I still have the book and have likely re-read it more than any other. For some reason it speaks to me, not necessarily of my own childhood, but of the innocence of childhood scientific wonder and discovery. As an adult, the book is now also overlaid by a wistfulness for a world, landscape, and people now gone, destroyed both by World War II and by the “shrinking” of the world by modern transport and technology. Durrell captured and preserved a sliver of the world that we would all be lucky to recapture, even in little pieces.