Friday, November 29, 2019

My Family and Other Animals

Ever since stumbling onto the PBS Durrells of Corfu series earlier in the year, I have been looking forward to reading My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell, on which the series is based.

It was as delightful as the series and was remarkably true to the book in tone, plot, and characters. My Family and Other Animals is the first book (1956) in a trilogy in which Durrell recounts his family’s life on the Greek island in the 1930s. Gerald is ten when his widowed mother moves with her four children from damp, dreary England to sun-soaked exuberant Corfu.

Gerald, who went on to become a world-famous naturalist and author of many books, is a delightful child in love with the natural world and eager to observe and explore the teeming, fertile world into which he is dropped. His older brother is Lawrence Durrell, or Larry in the book, and is 23 when the family moves, a struggling novelist, confident in his abilities and arrogant in his artistic sensibilities. The other brother, Leslie, while he is the antithesis of erudite Larry--he is love with guns and hunting--shares a swagger with Larry that has completely escaped their sister, Margo, who is a teenager and plagued by the traditional teen problems--acne, low self-esteem, and raging hormones. Rounding out the family is Mother--a curious and attractive mix of helplessness and capability, with a mamma bear's protective ferocity when it comes to her family.

The rest of the characters are the friends they make in Corfu, including the naturalists who befriend and mentor Gerald, or Gerry as his friends and family call him, the local doctor, a series of tutors for Gerry, and Spiro, a native of Corfu who loves and admires the English and takes the Durrell family under his wing and shepherds them devotedly.

I really loved this book--it is a perfect mixture of family anecdotes that remind me fondly of James Thurber's reminiscences (notably My Life and Hard Times) and descriptions of the birds, insects, fish, and plant life of Corfu. In particular, I loved Gerry's recounting of the time he watched two pairs of swallows build nests and raise their families--comedy writing that made me laugh out loud. Dry and witty but with a deep understanding and love for the animals being described.

Milo Parker plays Gerry Durrell

I am really looking forward to reading the next two books in the series, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. I also just put Corfu on the must-visit list.

This book counts for the Back to the Classics challenge in the humor category.


  1. This book does sound like a lot of fun. And I love the owl on the cover!

  2. This sounds like a great book I think that my wife would particularly like it as she tends to enjoy similar books.

    I love the cover picture that you posted.

  3. I am sorry I missed the series but the book the series is based on sounds good as well and since I rarely read books by naturalists
    reading this book would be a good start.

  4. I love PBS, but I have yet to watch this show. It sounds like a wonderful and unique novel and a great show. Thank-you for this wonderful review!

  5. I read this aloud to my daughter a year or two ago & we loved it. We’ve been going through the James Herriot books lately & they’re just as funny. I couldnt include them in the Back to the Classics Challenge this year, unfortunately, as they were written in the 70’s.

  6. This is one of those books I have heard so much about but never read. It seems that so many UK readers encountered it first as a child which must have been lovely. I didn't know there was a PBS series too! I will have to check both of them out. It does also give me vibes of the James Herriot series that Carol notes above which I did read as a teenager because I loved the THAT PBS series back in the day!

  7. I guess I didn't know this about the Durrells -- that they lived on Corfu early on. I remember reading one of Gerald's naturalist books in my youth ... I can't recall which one ... perhaps A Zoo in My Luggage. But this trilogy on Corfu sounds good.

  8. Aha, like you, I went and borrowed the book, after watching some of the series. It's so well cast, with all the actors getting perfectly into character. I love Gerry's strong love of the natural world, at such a young age, and the fact that it stayed with him. What a fun bunch of siblings they were, and a handful for Mother :)