I’ve just discovered Gerald Durrell and I can’t tell you how excited I am. I picked up a copy of Menagerie Manor on a whim this weekend and once I started reading I couldn’t stop.
First published in 1964, Menagerie Manor is one of many books by Durrell recounting his years spent dealing with the wildlife he loved so much. This book, however, focuses on the small zoo he opened on the Island of Jersey off the coast of Britain. Penguin has re-released this title, as well as several others, with new covers for a new generation to enjoy.
Gerald Durrell always had a dream of owning his own zoo. Even when his family and friends said he was crazy to want to have one, he stood by his dream. So when an opportunity presented itself Durrell jumped on it and acquired a large estate on the Island of Jersey, which quickly became his zoo. Menagerie Manor highlights some of the trials and tribulations that Durrell went through as he got his zoo up and running. From the human residents of the island to the escapes of several different animals, including a tapir and porcupine, the book is filled with humor and an obvious love of his subjects.
Another thing that I enjoyed so much about Menagerie Manor were the wonderful sketches done by Ralph Thompson, a friend of Durrell who came to stay at the zoo. Orangutan babies were brought to life with a quick line sketch and a series of hatching turtles creeps across the top of a page while the story below details their miraculous birth. Overall it’s a perfect blend of education and entertainment.
In a lot of ways Menagerie Manor reminds me of the works of James Herriot. Though Durrell lacks the grace and the ability to place the reader into the story the way Herriot was masterfully able to do in such books as his All Creatures Great and Small series, Durrell still presents his story in an entertaining and informative way. From the habits of the inhabitants to their antics as they come to the zoo for the first time and then escape, Gerald Durrell tells an enchanting tale that demands to be shared.