Warning: I’m about to shower you with quotes.
Sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell them apart…my family and the animals, that is.
I don’t know why my brothers and sister complain so much. With snakes in the bath and scorpions in the lunch table, our house, on the island of Corfu, is a bit like a circus. So they should feel right at home…
The brilliantly chaotic, hilariously funny classic by Gerald Durrell.
The words on the blurb say it all: brilliantly chaotic, hilariously funny. I suppose this book is an autobiography. But it’s so unlike any other autobiography that from the first page you won’t feel like you’re reading a dead person’s life story. This book blows you away into pre-World War Two Europe, where a single mother and her four young children decide, on a whim, to migrate to Corfu. It is here where a young Gerald Durrell develops his passion for zoology which leads him to become one of the greatest naturalists and conservationists of the world.
My Family and Other Animals is the first book of the Corfu Trilogy, which also includes the books, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods.
The characters: the humans
“That bloody boy’s filled the sodding bath full of bleeding snakes,” said Leslie, making things quite clear.
The above quote pretty much sums up Gerry’s existence in this whole book. An impressionable, ten-year-old boy, he speedily learns Greek and befriends many Corfiotes, and wanders around the countryside in search of animals, or sailing on his homemade boat, or swimming (generally doing everything a kid could do when given so much freedom)
Larry, Leslie and Margo Durrell
Gerry’s two older brothers and older sister. Larry is a writer, bossy and a know it all. Leslie’s obsessed with guns and hunting, belligerent, hot tempered and often speaks before he thinks. Margo is the fashionista, worrying over her acne and her weight, levelheaded over everything else other than her looks.
Mother/ Louise Durrell
“Sometimes I think I’m the only sane person in this family”Birds, Beasts and Relatives
This woman must be a superhero. To raise four eccentric kids with a motley of different interests all alone, transplanting her family from India to Britain to Greece, it must be quite a feat. Gerald Durrell also knew that, which was why he dedicated this book to her.
“Thems [the customs officers] bastards thinks they owns the islands,” was Spiro’s comment. He seemed quite unaware of the fact that he was acting as though he did.
I loved loved loved Spiro! He turns up out of nowhere when the Durrells are quite lost, and without a place to stay, and sticks with them like a burr, looking after them like a fussy mother.
Theodore was Gerry’s mentor, who joins him in his quests to seek animals and provides the facts to match Gerry’s enthusiasm. He was a walking encyclopedia and an unapologetic nerd!
The characters: the animals
Where to start? From the dogs, Roger, Dodo (wait for it) Widdle and Puke, the tortoises Achilles and Madame Cyclops, Quasimodo the pigeon, the ‘Magenpies’, Geronimo the gecko, Alecko the Albatross…every animal was written like a person in itself, with unique personalities and habits. They were front and centre, even if they weren’t named: swallows, earwigs, scorpions, owls, snakes, spiders…our young naturalist’s curiosity knows no bounds.
What I loved
This book is nothing if not funny. It’s the sort of book that induces laughter (the stomach-hurting kind). It is nothing less than what you would expect from the Durrell household. The great thing is that the funny comes out on these small incidents: opening a matchbox to find scorpions inside, Mother buying a swimsuit and wearing it, Spiro stealing goldfish from the king’s palace, Leslie teaching Larry how to shoot. And there’s Theodore and his incredibly bad jokes:
“What he should have done,” Theodore pointed out gravely, “was to point his umbrella at it and shout, ‘stand back or I’ll fire’.”
“Whatever for?” inquired Kralefsky, very puzzled.
“The gull would have believed him and flown away in terror,” explained Theodore blandly.
“But I don’t quite understand…” began Kralefsky, frowning.
“You see, they’re terribly gullible creatures,” said Theodore in triumph.
Let’s be honest: what family ever agrees with each other’s opinions? This was partly why the Durrell family felt so real. They get into disagreements, they squabble over petty things, discuss toilet stuff while eating, they dare each other to do impossible things and so on, never a day of peace. I loved every second the whole family got into discussion over something important, like moving houses for the nth time and how to keep their relatives from coming to visit them and so on.
July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.
This is the first sentence in this book, and it immediately sets up the atmosphere of gloomy, rainy London without saying much at all.
Those moments of peace and quiet in between chaos when Gerry hangs out alone with his animals
I’m pretty sure a non-nature lover would skim over these parts, but they were also quietly satisfying in their own way. Gerry’s pretty observant for a kid his age as he (literally) gets down on his knees in the mud to collect animal, or just watch them.
I will definitely go there one day.
Every moment Theodore was on the page
I loved his embarrassment of talking to people, the way he always said ‘er’ or ‘um’ mid sentence. This dude was literally an awkward antisocial walking encyclopedia who wasn’t afraid to randomly spout out facts – just like me!
“Here in Corfu,’ said Theodore, his eyes twinkling with pride, ‘anything can happen.”
“Chairete,” he called in his deep voice the beautiful Greek greeting, “chairete, kyrioi...be happy.”
The goats poured among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out its chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with the early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season?
My final rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)