My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
I recently received 'My Family and other Animals' by Gerald Durrell as a birthday present from a friend. The friend in question had owned a copy of the book since childhood and had highly recommended it. Having read it, I can now understand her enthusiasm.
Gerald Durrell was a naturalist and owner of the Jersey Zoological park in the Channel Islands; and 'My Family' is a humorous take on part of Gerald's childhood spent in Corfu. It focuses heavily on the wildlife young Gerald comes across on the island, and we see how this shaped his interests and future career.
The story starts with the Durrell family moving from England to Corfu in 1935 and Durrell paints a fantastic picture of his family and their differing personalities. There is his widowed mother, the eldest son Larry (the famous author Laurence Durrell), gun mad second son Leslie and sister Margo. They are joined at various points by the local taxi-driver and odd-job man Spiro and Gerald's great friend Dr Theodore Stephanides. It is this last character who largely inspires Gerald's interest in the natural world.
As the story progresses, more characters appear (all of them larger than life) and we hear about the many adventures and incidents Gerald gets wrapped up in.
One of the best things about this book for me, is how Durrell gives such human personalities to each of the animals he encounters. There is Achilles the Tortoise, who crawling whenever someone calls his name; Dodo the dog, who keeps popping her leg out of it's socket when excited; and one of my favourite moments, the epic duel between Cecily the mantis and Geronimo the gecko. There is little wonder Durrell followed a career with animals; his adoration and wonderment of the natural world leaps off the page.
Another thing I love about this book is Durrell's unique style of prose. His descriptions are fantastic; they really bring Corfu and its array of animals to life (tourism to the island increased dramatically after the book's publication) and there are many moments in the book which will have you giggling along with the young Gerald as he tells his tale.
Although presented as an autobiographical tale, there are inaccuracies and skipped parts in the tale, but this doesn't detract from the book. If anything, it adds to its charm and readability, making this a fantastic book for a quick, relaxing read or for anybody who wants to escape to another, simpler time and world.
The first ten minutes of the film version of 'My Family and Other Animals'.