Review: My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell

by Vanathi Parthasarathi on June 16, 2014

My family and other animals
Author: Gerald Durrell
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1956
ISBN: 9780141321875
Rating: ★★★★½
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“My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.”
― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

Imagine the animal lover in you, moving to a new exotic place, with your mildly eccentric family. Now add to it some hilarious experiences with some of the most startling animals, a shooting adventure gone bad, loads of parties with unusual guests, animal hunting in orchards of olives and grapes, swimming in the cool, brilliantly blue, dolphin filled seas, memorable picnics to the most unusual but beautiful places and you have the story of this gem of a book!

The Plot

One of the most pleasurable, rib-tickling adventure comedy books that I have read, My Family and Other Animals is the narration of author Gerald Durrell’s childhood life in the exotic Greek Island of Corfu. Fed up with the cold, harsh winters of England, the Durrell family gives up on it and decides to move to a country with better weather. And what could be better than a Greek Island with its warm sunshine and sparkling blue waters? So the family impulsively moves to Corfu, a small Island with friendly people and even friendlier fauna. Thus, starts the experience of a lifetime, for the author as well as for the reader, as he takes you through his escapades with turtles and terrapins(Who knew they were different!), water snakes and scorpions(Brrr!), magpies and sea gulls, pigeons and dogs, frogs and geckos and so many more!

The Characters

The book is full of interesting characters. The family consists of a gentle, loving yet unconventional mother, a pompous, self centered elder brother Larry who loves his books and wants to make it as an author, the acne – faced Margo who has her fans, the gun-loving Leslie who loves his game and the nature loving Gerry who could pet almost any animal living in this planet.

“’All we need is a book,’ roared Leslie; ‘don’t panic, hit ’em with a book.” Click to tweet!

What initially looks like a rather dysfunctional family at the beginning, slowly transitions into a unusual but lovable family and the author brings out this transition wonderfully. Other characters like that of Spiro, the chauffeur, Kosti the prisoner, Theodore and Mr. Krafelsky are also depicted in a vivid manner that is specific to a child’s eye, which is an incredible feat by the author and gives us a look into a child’s perspective on so many things.

The Writing

The writing is exceptional and the author transports you the beautiful world of Corfu with his words. The author has a natural flair for humor and made me guffaw at the retellings of some of the incidents, and trust me when I say that very few authors have managed to me make laugh like that. The incidents like Margo’s dramatic exit from the home only to get stuck in the storm, Larry’s surprise when he opens his matchbox for lighting his cigarette, Larry’s little shooting adventure, the wrath of the sea gull, Mrs. Durell in her swimsuit and the ensuing confusion with Roger will stay on your mind and leave you smiling even when you recount it. The author also squeezes in his insights on different animals and their lives in between these incidents that will make you wonder why you never look at an animal the way Mr. Durell does. The author inveigles his readers with his nostalgic recitation of his heartwarming experiences with his family, his rather unusually named pets(Quasimodo, Puke, and animals in this wonderful book.

The Verdict

When the family decides to leave Greece, on their way back to England, while in Switzerland a guard looking over their passports and other forms describes the family as “A travelling circus with staff” and that is precisely what you feel when you read this book. As Sunday Times describes it, this book is truly bewitching and will leave you wanting for more.

Written by Vanathi Parthasarathi

Love to read and have been reading since 5. Amatuer photographer and experimental cook! One of the best things in the world, according to me, is the smell of the pages in a book!

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