ROSY IS MY RELATIVE (1968 Novel)

by Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell claims in his introduction to his first novel that it is an "almost true story" which he "merely embroidered and polished here and there".  

Its 1900 and Adrian Rookwhistle, our hesitant human hero, dreaming of a way to escape a humdrum existence, out of the blue, learns that his uncle Amos has made a death bed gift to him of Rosy.

Rosy, an elephant with  a circus background and no tusks, comes with £500 to look after her.  

Rosy turns out to have an endearing character and a few personal problems of elephantine proportions. Not least amongst these is a propensity, given half a chance, for getting drunk on beer, gin, cherry brandy or whatever she can get her trunk on.

Adrians solution to his predicament  is to  set off on an adventure, with Rosy, across the English countryside, in springtime, to the seaside, to try to find a circus where Rosy can live happily and to bribe them with the £500 to take her off his hands:-

"The sun was hot, the sky a clear blue, and all around them the hedgerows and copses, clad in a frilly green crinoline of spring leaves, were bursting like a musical box full of birdsong. It was wonderful, he decided, to be able to walk along the leafy lanes, their high banks covered with waterfalls of butter-yellow primroses with Rosy shuffling through the dust at his side, listening to the clatter and scrape of the pony trap's wheels, and the pleasant squeaking and jingling of the harness."

The story unfolds  and Adrian and Rosy, after many slapstick (mis)adventures, and with a trail of unintentional devastation behind them, are eventually arrested, accused of public disturbance and grievous bodily harm, and tried in Court on the Island of Scallop where they are defended against the full majesty of the Law by the eccentric Sir Magnus Ramping Fumitory, aided by Screech, his Dickensian Clerk, "cringing" at his heels "his pen squeaking like a demented wren as he wrote copious notes."

A string of witnesses are called, cross-examined and re-examined. These include Sir Hubert Darcy (his salmon frightened by Adrian and Rosy bathing in his River);  Lord and Lady Fenneltree (their party disturbed by Rosy skidding  into their ballroom bringing down a chandelier; a reincarnated Inn Keeper Mr Filigree (who counts as several witnesses in one, but poses a problem for the Court by wanting to swear the Court Oath on a Prayer Wheel); and the White Witch - Black Nell. 

The case against Adrian and Rosy looks bleak. As to the Jury:-

"All of them looked sour-faced, gimlet eyed and unrelenting, and those who had not immediately gone into a trance spent their time looking surreptitiously at their watches and did not appear to be concentrating on anything in particular. They looked at Adrian as though they would be willing to condemn him there and then, either from a sense of vindictiveness or from a desire to get back to their businesses as rapidly as possible."

The Judge is the permanently confused Lord Crispin Turvey:-

"An immensely tall, angular figure ... His gown hung round him in long folds like the wings of a bat, and his wig was perched slightly askew over a lantern jawed face with a blue chin, soulful spaniel-brown eyes and a turned-down mouth like a slit. But for his garb, you would have said that he was a dyspeptic undertaker in a town where nobody ever died."

"... Do you know," said Adrian helplessly, "I don't think I understand quite how the law functions."

"You can't expect to," said Sir Magnus crisply. "After all, we who administer it don't understand how it functions, so one can hardly hope you to."

Adrian and Rosy are finally acquitted, aided by the brilliant, but unconventional advocacy of the snuff addicted Sir Magnus and justice is done.

Adrian, smitten with the beautiful Samantha (with her "great, green, gold-flecked eyes") is amazed to find the feeling is mutual. The pair to-be announce their engagement (to no ones great surprise) at a party, for almost everyone, at the Unicorn and Harp, lubricated by quantities of cherry brandy.

Adrian, Samantha and Rosy, are set fair to live happily ever after.

ROSY IS MY RELATIVE extracts © Gerald Durrell 1968

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