As the new year approaches, I’m burying myself in a good biography, something I love to do. This one is Douglas Botting’s bio of Gerald Durrell, which is available on Kindle US for the bewilderingly cheap price of $1.99 (it’s 672 pages). There are no illustrations, which I hardly miss, because the combination of Botting’s effective narration and the excerpts of Durrell’s colorful, amusing sensory word painting from letters and diaries gives me all I need.
However, to my surprise, it’s really sad. One would have thought that Gerald was the happiest member of the Durrell family, very successful as a writer and founding his own zoo on the island of Jersey by the time he was 40, but even though I am only halfway through, he has hit the middle-aged doldrums, and although his second marriage clearly perked him up a bit, I don’t expect the whole picture to change much.
I was a Durrell fanatic as a young teen, even hunting down and reading first wife Jacquie’s not particularly fond memoir, Beasts in My Bed. It is strange to know the truth, that this man was an alcoholic depressive who barely showed his face in the zoo that he lived beside and supposedly loved so much. When an attempt was made around 1970 to gently push him aside and hire a full-time administrator, however, he went ballistic and essentially forced his board to resign instead. Although I’m far from the end, the book has made me think about what it means to realize one’s vision fairly early in life, and how happiness ebbs away no matter what one does or however much one achieves. There is a universality in this that lets each individual person off the hook.
I’ll post again in the New Year with news of my preorder for the sequel to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth.
All the best for a happy and peaceful New Year!