Book Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald DurrellMy Family & Other Animals is, as hinted at by the title, a humorous, mostly autobiographical account of the author’s early years, which were spent in Corfu in the 1930s with his mother and three older siblings.  Not only do we become acquainted with his eccentric, very English family, we are also introduced to plenty of the locals: a mix of humans, animals, birds, insects and plant life.

Durrell’s family moved to Corfu when he was 8 years old.  Before this they had lived in India and England, so his was not exactly your average upbringing.  After spending the war years back in England, Durrell became a keeper at Whipsnade Zoo, then aged just 22 he organised, financed and led an expedition to Cameroon.  Gerald Durrell was in his time a leading naturalist and conservationist, as well as an author and TV presenter, and he led many expeditions all over the world to study wildlife.  Animal lovers should definitely check out his Wikipedia page to find out more about how he devoted his life to the natural world.

In this book we discover new creatures on almost every page.  Durrell’s obsession with the natural world is infectious.  As he describes himself lying on his stomach on the ground for hours, watching a centipede mother and her nest of babies, you find yourself hanging on to every word.  Whether he is describing a beautiful and deserted Corfu beach at sunrise, keeping snakes cool in the family bathtub, or trying to cover up the destruction caused by a couple of adopted magpies, I’m sure you’ll be entertained.

It’s not simply a catalogue of wildlife though.  His family are also examined and their individual foibles picked apart.  As the youngest child by a good eight years, Durrell’s boyish perspective on life makes for a witty account of human nature.

Every member of his family, including Durrell (or “Gerry” as he is referred to in the book), is single-mindedly focused on their own goals and passions.  When they are forced to work together towards a common goal, such as moving house, chaos usually follows.  Everyone has a different suggestion to make, and cannot comprehend any other course of action other than their own.  His mother, clearly adored by all, is the only real exception.  She aims to please, worries about the slightest thing and is deeply concerned about public appearances, oblivious to her own eccentricities.  She is teased mercilessly by her children.

The author’s light-hearted tone made for easy and pleasurable reading.  He doesn’t take himself too seriously and is not embarrassed by pointing out his own childhood weaknesses, or those of his relatives.  This book is usually sold as a book for children, but this is the first time I’ve ever read it.  I would have adored reading it as a child (I had misguided leanings towards becoming a vet) but I’ve loved reading it as an adult, so I consider it to be a fun read for all ages.

Did you read and enjoy this book as a child?  Or have you read it as an adult?  I’d love to know what you thought of it, and if you’ve read any of Durrell’s other books, whether you feel they’re worth reading too.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vinny Grette
    May 21, 2012 @ 21:34:29

    I loved Durrel as a child and still do. So glad people are still finding and enjoying his books! I seem to remember one called A zoo in my suitcase. So funny!


  2. Linda Bott
    May 22, 2012 @ 11:41:43

    I read this book several years ago, as an adult studying English Literature at night school. I thought it was a wonderful book, rich with descriptions of the local wildlife and descriptions of his eccentric family. I haven’t read any of his other books, despite my best intentions, but reading the review has made me feel quite nostalgiac so perhaps I’ll have a look for the book again.


    • TheBrontëSister
      May 22, 2012 @ 21:45:49

      Good to know it’s not just me reading children’s books. Nostalgia is just the word I was looking for to sum this up perfectly – not in terms of a shared childhood experience of course, but in terms of reading something so full of the innocence of youth and yet infused with the hindsight of an adult. If you read any of his other books, please let me know! Thanks for your comment.


  3. Trackback: Book Review: Judith by Lawrence Durrell « TheBrontëSister
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 04:41:49

    Magnificent. I agree.


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