Well, I picked Gerald Durrell’s Fillets of Plaice up thinking it was ‘just’ a Gerald Durrell reader (and given the fact that most of his books are out-of-print or unavailable in the U.S. I’d be happy for a Durrell reader), a collection of snippets from his other works. Happily, it turns out to be a collection of “bonus features,” scenes & stories left out of other books for various reasons. As usual, all are polished and very, very funny. “The Birthday Party” is a Corfu tale about an ambitious boat trip to celebrate his long-suffering mother’s birthday. All the beloved Corfu characters are there — coarse but fiercely local fixer Spiro, absent-minded Dr. Theo, and Gerald’s singular family — aided and abetted by some archetypical British visitors. The other stories track through Gerald’s life: post-Corfu time in London, young man-about-townhood in Bournemouth (which seems to have been a more fashionable destination in the late 1940s than it is today) and animal collecting in Cameroon, which makes this book a great introduction to Durrell’s world. (Although, anyone interested by what I’ve described so far should immediately run and buy a copy of My Family & Other Animals — one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Would that Augusten Burroughs and rest of the current crop of ironic memoirists would read it and learn how to poke fun at your relatives without resorting to inventive obscenity or revealing the unattractive chips on their shoulders!)
One of my favorites is “A Question of Promotion” a tale about the expat community in a remote African outpost banding together to help the competent-but-socially-awkward District Officer (the British civil servant in charge of the area) host a dinner party for his boss, who’s come to inspect the area. The officer is clumsy without being drawn as a buffoon, and Durrell finds amusement as well as virtues amid all his characters’ foibles. The one thing Fillets of Plaice lacks is an introduction or afterword detailing when the various pieces were written and what larger works they were originally intended for, becasue I’d love to know where to find more about District Officer Martin and Durrell’s time in Cameroon.