The Story Line / Plot Summary
‘A Gorilla in the Guest Room’ written by Gerald Durrell in 1962 is about the relation between a gorilla named N’pongo and his caretaker Mr. Durrell.
The author gets a phone call from an animal dealer asking if he wanted a baby gorilla for his zoo. Mr. Durrell feels that the way Africa government is at the moment gorillas may extinct in the next twenty years. So being an animal lover, he decides to accept it and asks how much that dealer wants for the baby gorilla. The dealer says he’ll take twelve hundred pounds which the author feels is quite reasonable for a baby gorilla but he fears that it may turn out to be merely a baby chimpanzee because most animal dealers can’t distinguish between chimpanzee and gorillas. Yet he accepts it anyway.
Only one problem is, he doesn’t have that much money on him at the moment. His wife tells him he was mad to accept the proposal in the first place since he doesn’t have money and that gorilla may turn out to be a chimpanzee. But Mr. Durrell tells her that he’ll ask all the rich men to contribute for this to which his wife laughs saying no one will pay for it. Mr. Durrell rings one of his colleagues and asks him to send him a list of the richest men of that island. In about 30 minutes that colleague gives him a list.
He rings up the first person who happens to accept the proposal and agrees to pay for a small portion. By lunchtime, he has collected two hundred pounds. The next person on the list is Major Domo. The name isn’t familiar to him so he doesn’t know what his reaction would be. But he’s shocked when the man agrees to pay thousand pounds for the gorilla.
That’s how N’pongo walks into his life. N’pongo is a healthy, good-natured gorilla with a nice sense of humour as well. Since his cage, where they were supposed to keep N’pongo, wasn’t ready, they kept him in the guest room of the author’s house. At first the author’s wife and mother were afraid what the baby gorilla would do but N’pongo with his surprisingly courteous manners and humorous nature wins the heart of everyone.
After a few years Mr. Durrell feels it’s time to get a mate for N’pongo. He asks the dealer from whom he had bought him if there’s any chance he could find a mate for him. The dealer tells him he indeed knows someone who has a female gorilla who’s a year or two younger than N’pongo.
He buys Nandy, the female gorilla, on an installment plan. Upon arrival he notices scars on her fur covered skin and also her scared, lost expression. So he puts her in a separate cage in front of N’pongo’s. At first they don’t show any interest in each other but later N’pongo becomes quite curious about her. With his humor he wins her over.
One day N’pongo falls seriously ill. No one’s sure what the real problem is but is worried for him. He stops eating and loses a lot of weight. To lure him into eating, the author brings some exotic fruits and a watermelon. Though he doesn’t show much interest in the fruits, he eats the watermelon. He doesn’t show any sign of improvement and the author grows anxious for he was due to leave for France where he had organized a bees’ nest of helpers and advisers. He didn’t want to leave seeing his condition but just a day before his departure N’pongo showed signs of recovery. He starts eating properly and the gleam in his eyes was coming. By the time the author came back N’pongo had put on all the weights he had lost and was perfectly cheery again.
A Gorilla in the Guest Room: Commentary on the Story
All of Gerald’s stories are about his real encounters and experiences with wildlife. In this piece, he has depicted his relationship with N’pongo, a pet gorilla.
Unlike other stories, Gerald portrays his animals with human-like nature. They are given their own perspective and the author’s guesses couldn’t be more realistic. His simple, sarcastic and elegant writing style is bound to impress you.
From the beginning, the descriptions are quite humorous; if the fact that the author was bankrupt and in debt yet he decided to buy the baby gorilla for twelve hundred pounds isn’t funny then I don’t know what is. But the fact that the author went to such extremes to buy the gorilla shows his dedication and love for wildlife.
The best part of the whole story is the depiction of the relationship between N’pongo and Gerald. They aren’t portrayed as pet and master or instructor. They know and understand each other like brothers and friends.
The main topic is of course their relationship but it has other parts as well; the way he has described the relationship of Nandy and N’pongo will make you roll on the floor laughing. It’s just adorable. At times he has also shown the kind of harsh treatment animals have to go through at human hands through Nandy’s character.
Overall, ‘A Gorilla in the Guest Room’ is bound to knock at your heart with its simple vocabulary, beautiful description of unconditional love and stark situations. If you like it, don’t forget to check out Gerald’s website https://www.durrell.org/wildlife/.