Book Review: Whatever Happened to Margo? by Margaret Durrell

In 1947, returning to the UK with two young children to support, Margaret Durrell starts a boarding house in Bournemouth. But any hopes of respectability are dashed as the tenants reveal themselves to be a host of eccentrics: from a painter of nudes to a pair of glamorous young nurses whose late-night shifts combined with an ever-revolving roster of gentleman callers leading to a neighbourhood rumour that Margo is running a brothel. Margo’s own two sons, Gerry and Nicholas, prove to be every bit as mischievous as their famous Uncle Gerald – and he himself returns periodically with weird and wonderful animals, from marmosets to monkeys, that are quite unsuitable for life in a Bournemouth garden.

What I Thought:
The Durrells seem to be popular at the moment, what with the hit ITV show and so, Whatever Happened to Margo?, Margaret Durrell’s memoir of her eventual return to the UK, has been reissued by Penguin.

I’d not realised that, alongside her brothers, Margo Durrell had been bitten by the writing bug so discovering this book and the quirky residents of Margo’s boarding house was an absolute delight.

I mainly picked up the book as Margo’s boarding house was in Bournemouth and I love to read things set locally to me to see if I recognise any of the locations and, although Bournemouth is now very different to that of the late 1940s, I could picture where Barry the beach warden would have patrolled, and where Margo describes ‘going into town’ I could picture the route they might’ve taken.

Of course, even without the real-life signposts, the book is lovely to read as a snapshot of the late 1940s, as Margo’s mother has concerns that Margo get the ‘right people’ in her boarding house and worries that the nurses on the top floor might lead people to believe that they are running a brothel!

It’s hard to work out how much of Margo’s residents is the truth, and how much is caricature, but nevertheless, the book is written with a light touch and finds humour in the mundane details of boarding house living – and when Gerald turns up with a crate full of snakes, it’s interesting to say the least!

This edition of the book carries a foreword by Gerald Durrell, and also recommends looking up Gerald’s organisation, The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which carries on Gerald’s lifelong love of animals and does some fantastic conservation work.

Whatever Happened to Margo is published by Penguin and highly recommended!

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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