Apr 5, 2015

My Family and Other Animals

by Gerald Durrell

Durrell describes his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu, with his interesting family. Each of his siblings had their passion. One of his older brothers was into literature and art, the other guns and hunting. The author himself was, of course, fascinated by wildlife and as he was often left to his own devices all day long, he spent his time prowling the island observing myriad insects and small animals, catching them when he could. He brought home a wide variety of small creatures- turtles, birds, fish, lizards and so on- continually upsetting his family when they found scorpions in the matchbox or snakes in the bathtub. Finally they realized he wasn't going to abandon his interests, and gave him a room of his own to dedicate to his nature studies and growing collection. He was also blessed to have a series of personal tutors who recognized and shared, each in their own way, his passion for nature. One was as happy to spend afternoons catching insects and wading through marshes as Durrell himself, another later on had his own attic full of bird cages and a balcony converted into aviaries. Aside from the descriptions of animals and his minor adventures with his dogs finding, watching and catching things, there's also plenty of hilarious stories about incidents in his family. Even in the midst of an argument, trying to rescue a dinner party ruined by a pair of magpies or put out a fire in someone's bedroom, they have the funniest exchanges ever. It's a delightful book, one of the best Durrell I've read so far. I often fail to find other reviews on his animal-collecting books, but this one seems more popular and I can see why.

The opening passage alone cracked me up: It was originally intended to be a mildly nostalgic account of the natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages. Having got themselves on paper, they then proceeded to establish themselves and invite friends to share the chapters. It was only with the greatest difficulty, and by exercising considerable cunning, that I managed to retain a few pages here and there which I could devote exclusively to animals. Well yes, but the animals and descriptions of the countryside definitely stand out to me. His observations of male tortoises wrestling during the mating season and of a large preying mantis battling with a gecko on his bedroom ceiling were the best parts of the book.

Rating: 4/5       319 pages, 1956

more opinions:
Read Warbler
A Work in Progress
Rivers I Have Known
Valentina's Room
Shiny New Books

1 comment:

  1. As we discussed elsewhere I love this book to bits. He had the kind of childhood that I don't imagine exists anymore. And his descriptive writing of scenery and atmosphere is amazing. You've made me want to reread this one this year.


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