Thursday, 5 November 1998

Gerald Durrell: The Mockery Bird (1981)

The Mockery Bird coverEdition: Collins, 1981
Review number: 159

Zenkali, the imaginary tropical island on which The Mockery Bird is set, is described by Gerald Durrell as a place which attracts eccentrics, people who wander the world as square pegs in round holes until they end up on Zenkali and find themselves at home. These eccentric characters, distilled from people Durrell himself met on his own travels, are the principal charm of this ecological fable. They provide a variety of comic viewpoints on life, just as some of their originals do in Durrell's books about his animal collecting.

The story of The Mockery Bird concerns the rediscovery of the bird of the title, believed long extinct, in a remote valley that will soon be flooded as the result of a hydroelectric scheme. This naturally causes an immense political furore, particularly since the mockery bird is the ancestral god of the larger of the two main tribes on the island, which recently gained independence from Britain.

The Mockery Bird is a very funny, warm and uplifting novel, rather better than Durrell's earlier work of adult fiction, Rosie is My Relative. It helps if you share some of his ecological concerns, but today there are few people who do not at least pay lip service to them.

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