Amateurs in Eden

Amateurs in Eden

One of my favourite authors is Lawrence Durrell (see my blog on The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet) and as well as loving his writing I’ve always been captivated by his life and his family’s links to Greece. So when I saw Amateurs in Eden by Joanna Hodgkin reviewed in the Guardian, I immediately put it on my reading list.

It’s the story, told by Nancy’s daughter, of the marriage of Nancy and Lawrence Durrell, and particularly their time in Corfu, a fictionalised version of which is also found in My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, one of my favourite books as a child. It is a fascinating story of the development of the characters of two young and extremely talented people as they find their way in the world. I loved reading about how they hid themselves away from all distractions, first in rural West Sussex (not very far from where we have just moved to) and then in Corfu, and struggled to create great art.

I knew nothing of Nancy’s talent as a painter, the fact that her money supported his development as a writer, or the brave choices she made to escape her awful family. I did know that his treatment of, and attitude to, women was dreadful, but it was still chilling to read how their marriage disintegrated thanks largely to his bad bahaviour and quashing of her spirit. What I liked about this book though, was that it challenges the assumption that Nancy was just a silent and boring victim, and shows how she used her determination and courage to leave him as she had once left her parents, and to bring up a young child on her own in the extraordinary circumstances of wartime Palestine, having first dramatically fled the Nazis with Lawrence in a fishing boat.

When Drew and I went to Corfu a year ago, we hired a small boat in Paleokastritsa and sailed up and down the west coast and found the beaches of Agios Giorgios and Myrtiotissa, which Lawrence Durrell famously described as ‘perhaps the loveliest beach in the world’. Of all the places I’ve swam in Europe, the Caribbean, south-east Asia and Australia, I’ve never been in such clear blue warm water and had a beach to ourselves in such isolated splendour. If you pick your itinerary carefully, the island is still The Emerald Isle it was in the Durrells day.