“My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell – always interesting and amusing and occasionally hilarious

My Family and Other Animals is the first in a trilogy by the naturalist Gerald Durrell telling the story of his family’s life in Corfu just before WW2. The other two volumes are Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. I wrote briefly about the second of the three here. The books have recently been turned into a television series which I haven’t seen so I am reviewing the book.

Gerald’s mother decides to move the family to Corfu and so Gerald, his sister Margo and his brothers Larry and Leslie together with the family pets embark for Greece. It is necessary to say that this point that it appears that this autobiographical tale is not entirely accurate as apparently Leslie’s wife also accompanied them and this is not mentioned in the book. Others of the siblings also later challenged Gerald’s description of them and their lives at this time and it proved to be a bit of an issue for Laurence (Larry in the book) who went on to become a very serious literary novelist (and to be completely outsold by his younger brother). You need to regard the stories in these books as giving an idealised view of family life on the island.

If you take the facts at face value then this is a highly enjoyable book. The author has a really easy to read style and fills the books with quirky characters and many descriptions of the wildlife which he loved. The books are full of detail about the island, from the point of view of the immigrant family and their experience, and it is obvious that the author found their time in Greece to be idyllic and to be the foundation of his lifelong love of nature.

The book is written with a light wit but mostly from Gerald’s point of view which means that he doesn’t always understand what is happening around him. It also has a rather idealised view of the local people and some of the descriptions infantilise them which is occasionally uncomfortable. On the whole, though, this book is written with an obvious love for nature and the Greek island as well as for Gerald’s eccentric family and their friends. Most of it is amusing, the descriptions of nature are interesting and occasionally the book is hilarious. This book is the best of the three but they are all definitely worth reading.

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