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When Gerald “Gerry” Durrell was about 10 years old in 1935, his mom gave in to pressure from Larry, Gerry’s older brother, to move the whole family to the Greek island of Corfu. They couldn’t endure another English winter and Corfu sounded like an absolute paradise to them. Gerry already displayed the makings of a young naturalist at that age. He shares his zoological observations along with tales of his eccentric family in this memoir.
Reviewed on GoodReads on January 16, 2022
I’m currently watching All Creatures Great and Small, which leaves me longing for another gentle, funny book about people and animals. I don’t particularly feel like re-reading that series at the moment though, so I thought My Family and Other Animals might fill the need.
I’m sorry to say that this didn’t quite work for me. I’m disappointed since so many other readers love it.
The tales of the family misadventures were hilarious. Larry, the budding author, is a know-it-all who can steer his mom in any direction he chooses. Leslie, the avid huntsman, shoots his guns and scares the wits out of everyone at all hours. The lovely Margo has numerous suitors. His poor mother feebly tries to maintain some semblance of family propriety. And then there are the dogs. They all made for comedy gold.
But I have unanswered questions. Larry, the oldest son, is 23. Why is he still living at home and bossing everyone, including his mother, around? Where is their dad? Where do they get their money? At 10, I suppose Gerry might not have known the answers to all of these questions, but he could have addressed them for his readers as he wrote his memoir.
The whole thing felt vaguely… colonial? The locals call him “the little English lord.” And I hate to say it, but I felt that Gerry’s descriptions of the locals were condescending. He did speak of them all as his friends and he mentioned how generous they were but they were almost all called “peasants.” Spiro, a sort of family protector, comes across pretty well, but even he’s always a cause for laughter because of his tendency to add an “s” to the end of every word he speaks. Theodore, an actual scientist who came back to the island after getting his degree, is the only local with true intelligence. And Theodore revels in sharing stories of island goings-on that, while funny, make the islanders look like idiots. It just didn’t sit well with me.
Gerry’s pilfering of nests for pets and specimens honestly bothered me too. Young, amoral, curious boys are going to do this kind of thing. But shouldn’t he get in trouble so that he doesn’t keep caging or killing every animal he comes across?
Durrell’s descriptions of the island and the behavior of the animals that he observes are fascinating. I’m ready to book a flight to Corfu and see it for myself. But I’m not going to visit by reading the rest of the books in the trilogy.
I don’t see other reviewers with my same complaints, so the problem must be me. I know I shouldn’t judge actions in the past with 21st century values, which is what I’m doing, but I couldn’t step back from it in this case. I don’t feel the book has aged well but I’m very much in the minority. Read some other reviews on GoodReads to get a better feel for what the majority of readers think.
If you liked My Family and Other Animals, you might also like my reviews of
- All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
- Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog by Susannah Charleson
- Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? by Alan Parks
Buy My Family and Other Animals from Malaprop’s Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC or