Book Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other AnimalsA recent preoccupation with running, a short break to Venice and a long spell reading the almost 1000 pages of David Copperfield has resulted in fewer blog posts and in particular fewer book reviews than usual.  Fear not I am back!  Relatively recent Sunday night viewing  of the  televised ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell led me to borrow this bestselling and much-loved classic  book from my mum, in an attempt to see what I had been missing out on all these years.

For those who don’t know; although I imagine most people reading this do, at the age of 10, Gerald Durrell moved with his unwieldy family to the Greek island of Corfu.  There he developed an already burgeoning  passion for animals, wild life and eventually conservation.   In later life, this led Durrell onto numerous expeditions all over the world.  He founded the Jersey Zoological Park and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and David Attenborough has been quoted as naming Gerald Durrell as his inspiration.

It was with encouragement from his brother that Durrell was persuaded to write about his life’s work.  ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is an account of the time in Corfu he shared with his mother, his sister, two brothers, a bunch of Greek friends and a menagerie of animals.

If you watched and enjoyed the series but haven’t yet read the book, I would encourage you to do so.  It brings the series to life and helps the characters live in your imagination.  It is a charming book, full of warmth and humour, but is also a mini natural history guide to the wildlife of Corfu.

I don’t know whether Durrell kept journals of his time time in Corfu?  If not he clearly has a superb memory for detail and is able to recount events as if they happened to him yesterday. Reading this  I was transported to the ‘bays of butterfly blue’ where ‘faintly ringing from the shore like a chorus of tiny voices the shrill triumphant cries of  the cicadas’  can be heard.

“…a gentle curve of hillside that rose from the glittering sea.  The hill and the valleys around it were an eider down of olive groves that shone with a fishlike gleam where the breeze touched the leaves.  Halfway up the slope , guarded by a  group of tall slim cypress trees nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery.  The cypress trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busy painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival”

Now I appreciate, for some, this style of writing may be a bit much.  The descriptions are extensive and effusive and Durrell’s style is not what you would exactly call ‘pared down’ or lean. The result however is  a picture of a magical island where it seems anything might happen.

Some may feel Corfu is the star of the show and with descriptions like the one above it could be difficult to disagree.  However for me, the combination of Corfu, wonderful Greek characters like Spiro the larger than life local who took the Durrell’s under his generous wing,  the assortment of animals, and of course Gerry and his family. make this very much an ensemble piece.

My only regret about this book is that I didn’t read it much earlier in life.  This is a lovely book for both adults and children and one you might want to read to relieve the winter blues when they inevitably set in.

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