My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
I read My Family and Other Animals when I was in middle school in one of my favourite teachers' classes (Mr. Black). I still remember the hilarious voices he used to read the funny little anecdotes scattered throughout this story.
I came back to this book, remembering almost nothing besides the funny voices and that I loved it. Reading it back now, this little novel is incredibly vibrant. There isn't much of a plot - instead it's a bunch of funny stories pieced together with beautiful descriptions of the Greek countryside that the author (Gerald Durrell) experienced growing up.
Fun fact: I was talking to my friend Chloe and turns out her grandfather knew Durrell personally! He used to captain a ship on which Durrell went on his many excursions. Imagine my surprise when hearing that!
There's not much to give away in this novel but that doesn't mean it's not worth the read. Whether it be Durrell's accounts of his fantastical education (Columbus' first words upon setting foot ashore in America were, supposedly, "Great heavens, look... a jaguar!"), his mother's fabulous frilly, buoyant, bathing costume, setting scorpions loose in the house or more, I was off my seat laughing or holding my breath trying to take in the full breadth of the beauty of his writing. Durrell has a way of describing human character and the natural which is absolutely stunning but at the same time hilarious.
I'm so glad I came back to this novel because, as is usually the case, I appreciate it so much more now that I'm not 12 years old. I went in expecting a fun little read and it was that but also so much more - it's quickly vaulted its way to one of my all time favourites. I highly recommend this book to anyone who dreams of living in a foreign land, or who is looking to fall in love with reading again.
What I Liked About It:
- The characters. In this novel, the animals are family and the family are animals. Shocker, right? But Durrell really gets it right here. There were so many times that I'd sit there giggling and re-reading a passage I just read because it was so appropriate and such a funny characterization. There were many times I had to stop what I was doing and read a passage aloud to an innocent victim who happened to be nearby while I was reading.
- The descriptions. I don't remember a whole lot about the discussions we had in Mr. Black's class but I do remember talking about the personalization of the animals. Durrell creates such vivid descriptions of the natural world that you can almost see the scenes playing out in front of you.
- Depiction of Greek life. Durrell's description of his boyhood adventures in Corfu paints a beautiful picture of the island and has cemented Corfu on my travel bucket list since I read it when I was 12 years old.
What I Didn't Like:
- Nothing? I do wish this was longer so I could enjoy more of it but maybe that's part of the charm.
- “Each day had a tranquility a timelessness about it so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of the night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us glossy and colorful as a child's transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.”
- "It's all your fault, Mother,' said Larry austerely; 'you shouldn't have brought us up to be so selfish.' 'I like that!' exclaimed Mother. 'I never did anything of the sort!' 'Well, we didn't get as selfish as this without some guidance,' said Larry.”
- “She would seize every opportunity to dive into the bathroom, in a swirl of white towels, and once in there she was as hard to dislodge as a limpet from a rock.” (About his teenage sister Margo)
- "'I have no fear,' said the Turk modestly. 'I am a superb swimmer, so I have no fear. When I ride the horse, I have no fear, for I ride superbly. I can sail the boat magnificently in the typhoon without fear.' He sipped his tea delicately, regarding our awestruck faces with approval."