A genuinely funny book, where no one dies and only the dubious characters suffer a little, is always a great thing to have achieved, and Gerald Durrell achieved it many times. For a man known for his love for animals, he created some incredible human characters. This is a book of its time, the early twentieth century, where eccentric characters stalked the country lanes, theatres had strange and wonderful shows, and the legal system was still dominated by memorable people. As always, there is an immensely friendly tone in Durrell’s writing, as even the less than pleasant characters do not really suffer, but get their comeuppance in a thoroughly satisfactory way for the reader. Archie is the classic everyman, with secret dreams and genuinely good intentions throughout this charming novel. Originally published in 1978, this book has been reprinted by Pan in 2017 and made available again.
The memorably named Adrian Rookwhistle is a thirty year old man who works in a mundane job, doing predictable boring work. He lives at the mercy of a talkative landlady, whose cooking is appalling and personality dominates his uneventful life. He has secret dreams of adventure, but it looks horribly unlikely that he will ever do much more than plod along. Out of the blue he receives a letter from a dying uncle, who tells him that he is sending Rosy, a female with a drink problem, to him, together with the enormous sum of £500 to sustain her. He expects a showgirl who is past her best, so is stunned to discover that he has an elephant to take care of, who exhibits a tendency to seek out alcohol wherever it may be found. Abandoning the beautifully named Mrs Dredge, he seeks the help of his friend Mr. Pucklehammer as he decides to walk with Rosy to the coast in order to find her a new home. This is more difficult than it sounds, as apart from her alcohol dependence she has vivid memories of her time in the circus. So when she encounters certain people she lifts them up in her trunk. She picks out a squire in full hunt mode, and compounds her mistakes at a party where she finds some strong drink. Having said that, she is resourceful and brave, and is soon devoted to Adrian, whatever happens to the pair. Lawyers, actors, judges and others combine to make for a complicated ending, but my favourite is Mr Filigree who is a firm believer in reincarnations.
The semi legal language of this book is very funny, and the whole style of the book has the quality of a jolly story. I really enjoyed its old fashioned charm and pace, and the frequent turnarounds of fortune. The lovely romance is at once realistic and dream like, and there is no doubt that this is a life changing journey for Adrian and of course Rosy. This Durell book is entertaining, uplifting, and I thoroughly recommend it as an antidote to frequently traumatic fiction.
I notice that this was a book I acquired at the rather wonderful Barter Books on a recent visit. One of the great attractions of this shop ( a small word for a great place) is the fact that you never know what you will find – old favourites in a new form, new authors who you can afford to take a risk on, lots of mainstream titles mixed in with some genuine finds. If you are ever near Alnwick in Northumberland, it is so worth making time to visit ; you will find something most enjoyable, and the food is excellent (thrice cooked chips, anyone?)