Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

This book provided the most laugh-out-loud-moments-per-word than any book I have read in a long time and I highly recommend it.  Let me tell you a little about it.

My Family and Other Animals was written by the naturalist Gerald Durrell.  He writes his experience on the island of Corfu with his family between 1935 and 1939.  He writes about the island; its people and its customs. He writes about his family; their friends, their houses, their conversations and their altercations.  There are some seriously funny moments.

He writes about the natural history he observed.  Although he was only eight when he arrived on Corfu, he demonstrated an amazing love for wildlife as well as the tenacity and patience to wait, observe and record what he saw.  There are some seriously incredible moments. He relates, for instance, in great and terrifying detail, a chance fight between a mantid (think praying mantis) and a gecko, both of which he had already individually observed and named. You'll have to read it to find out who wins!

He writes very well, combining charm and humour with clever use of language*. On occasion the descriptions of places or creatures can be a little tedious but are happily skipped. On the whole I think he does an excellent job of taking what usually remains in the hands of the white-coated and putting it the hands of the ordinary man. If all natural history was this much fun the world would be a better place.

This book was recommended to me by friend without the background in science that I have. So make no mistake. This book is for you!

 * I particularly loved his use of the simile. Here are some of my favourites:
"we were served by the bewhiskered porter, who had become the head waiter simply by donning tails and a celluloid dicky that creaked like a convention of crickets." 
"I had hoped to give an impression of gracious majesty, and this is what happens... we arrive in town like a troupe of medieval tumblers." (this one from his brother, Larry). 
"the three dogs hung out their tongues and panted like ancient, miniature railway engines."


Jean said...

Love it! And the sequels. And all his other books too. But especially this series about his childhood.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree!
I have a vague memory of reading MFAOA for Yr 7 English, but then I read it again whilst on prac at RPA Hospital and clearly remember laughing out loud on a small patch of lawn - for 30 minutes it took me far away from hospital wards!!

I subsequently read his other books, one after the other. - Fillets of Plaice, The Garden of the Gods, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, Beasts In My Belfry, Catch Me A Colobus, Rosy Is My Relative. The copies I own are all dated 1980!

I was never a great fan of animal books but these were different - animals, people, exotic places and humour all rolled in together together.

There is a good movie version of the book, shot on location in Corfu.
My memory is a little vague but I think it'd be suitable family viewing.


Little Em said...

Oooh! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much! It is probably still my favourite novel. I have Menagerie Manor on my book shelf waiting for me to finish uni :)

I watched the BBC version too - it is practically impossible to buy but you can watch it on YouTube. Very funny too.