Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell book cover

This book has languished on my TBR shelf for so long that I can’t even remember why I wanted to read it in the first place. I had a vague idea that Ellie liked it, but other than that it had just become bedroom furniture. I was used to seeing that shiny blue spine blinking out at me. But no more! I finally pulled it down because we were in the last weeks of War & Peace and I wanted to read something, anything, that didn’t involve sudden anti-climactic deaths or peasant infantrymen being shot by the side of the road. My Family and Other Animals seemed like a reasonably safe bet.

Plot summary: Sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell them apart… my family and the
animals, that is. I don’t know why my brothers and sisters complain so
much. With snakes in the bath and scorpions on the lunch table, our
house, on the island of Corfu, is a bit like a circus. So they should
feel right at home…

I keep wavering over whether to file this under fiction or non-fiction. It’s about half-and-half between family anecdotes and descriptions of the wildlife of Corfu. I know most bookshops and even Amazon have it filed under either Natural History or Biography, but it feels like fiction. The anecdotes are just too perfect and too witty to be completely true, which surely makes it fiction… but then the wildlife parts are too lengthy and too technical for it to be purely fantasy. I can’t even explain how much this distresses me.

Essentially, this is the mostly true story of when a young Gerald and his family decided to up sticks and move to Corfu. Along the way they accumulate a whole host of absolutely mental animals including dogs, snakes, scorpions, turtles and gulls, to the not-always-amused reactions of the whole family.

LATER: AH! I just remembered why I bought this! I started writing ‘they accumulate a zoo of animals,’ and THEN I realised I bought this off the back of We Bought A Zoo. HA!!! Victooooooory!

Having said that, I loved this book from the first page when it made me laugh out loud on a train, and I immediately texted Ellie to let her know I loved it. It’s funny and light and will just generally cheer you up, no matter how miserable you feel.

Dodo decided quite early on in her career that Mother belonged to her, but she was not over-possessive at first until one afternoon Mother went off to town to do some shopping and left Dodo behind. Convinced she would never see Mother again, Dodo went into mourning and waddled, howling sorrowfully, around the house, occassionally being so overcome with grief that her leg would come out of joint. She greeted Mother’s return with incredulous joy, but made up her mind that from that moment she would not let Mother out of her sight, for fear she escaped again. So she attached herself to Mother with the tenacity of a limpet, never moving more than a couple of feet away at the most. If Mother sat down, Dodo would lie at her feet; if Mother had to get up and cross the room for a book or a cigarettte, Dodowould accompany her, and then they would return together and sit down again, Dodo giving a deep sigh of satisfaction at the thought that once more she had foiled Mother’s attempts at escape.

I have to admit that I preferred the family anecdotes an awful lot more than the wildlifery bits, and yes yes, I know that the animal parts are the basic point of the book’s existence. In my defence, some of them are long and quite technical, and honestly, I just don’t care enough about how a gecko walks to want to read two full pages on it. So there. Those parts are written well and everything, but they just weren’t interesting to me.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell quoteWhilst I suspect the funny parts are heavily edited, (they’re just too perfect, you know?) it doesn’t matter because they’re hilarious. I had to stop reading at one point because I kept getting strange glances at work. I cried. I actually cried. 

Some of the characters are a little annoying, but I suspect that’s to liven up the humour a bit. It definitely didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book. 

I finished My Family and Other Animals with that lovely warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’ve just finished an amazing book. Admittedly it helps when your only recent base for comparison is War & Peace. I immediately started looking up Gerald Durrell’s other books and I’m looking forward to reading them… even if I can’t figure out where to file the bloody things.   

Visit the Gerald Durrell Foundation here.

Comments

  1. Jean says:

    Oh how I love this book and the other Gerald Durrell books. I'm not even much of an animal person but I love them so.

    1. admin says:

      That's exactly it. I really liked this book and I wouldn't say I'm much of an animal person either.

  2. Ellie says:

    Now you're making me want to relive the Durrell magic as a grown-up (technically, anyway). Back when I was a little girl convinced I could be a zookeeper or famous zoologist even though I didn't really like being outside, these books were like catnip for me. Maybe it's time to go back and see what made them so wonderful. 🙂

  3. Terra says:

    This is one of my favorite books of all time, and I even have two copies of it. It is comedic, true, and has lots of info about his animals. Gerald's brother is Lawrence Durrell, quite a gifted family of writers.

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