Our beloved and gone-too-soon friend, Belinda, considered it her personal mission (among many others) to school me in contemporary English culture. This involved cookbooks with weird vocabulary, measurements, and oven settings, gin & tonic in a can from Marks & Spencer, and teaching me the importance of The Kinks, who were underappreciated in America, or at least in the part of it I come from.
Belinda’s campaign also involved a bit of Literature. In the time we knew each other, I can remember Belinda giving me three books. She didn’t just give them, she pressed her own copies on me. They were: Cold Comfort Farm, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. The first two were essential simply to be able to understand half of what Belinda said, as many of her best lines were sourced from these books. The third became my favorite.
I liked My Family and Other Animals so much that when a television series called The Durrells in Corfu started popping up on my local PBS station, I steered clear for a season or two. I didn’t want someone else’s vision of English eccentrics in a remote island setting upsetting my imagination. (A much younger me once refused to watch Little House on the Prairie, because, among many other things, Pa did not look one little bit like Michael Landon.)
But eventually I gave in. (Regarding the Durrells, not Little House. I stand firm on Little House.) The mother of the family is played by Keeley Hawes, who is simply wonderful; I could not resist watching her play Mrs. Durrell.
I’m very glad I gave in. The Durrells in Corfu is perfect knitting television. It’s funny, intelligent, scenic, and gentle, and I don’t need to read subtitles (or at least not very often; I think once in a while someone speaks in Greek). And Keeley Hawes steals the show in my opinion. I don’t remember the book focusing on her nearly as much as the television series does. (The book is written by the youngest son of the family, who was a close observer and honest recorder of human frailty.)
For those who refuse the television version, there is an audiobook. As soon as that thought occurred to me, I went to Audible.com and found that there are three versions, including one narrated by Hugh Bonneville. What a treat! But how to choose?
P.S. PBS Passport has all three seasons of The Durrells in Corfu; the third season is currently airing on my local station, and perhaps others.