Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Family and Other Animals

Title:  My Family and Other Animals
Author:  Gerald Durrell
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2013. 272 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "I should like to pay a special tribute to my mother, to whom this book is dedicated. Like a gentle, enthusiastic, and understanding Noah, she has steered her vessel full of stranger progeny through the stormy seas of life with great skill .... That she survived the voyage is a miracle, but survive it she did, and, moreover, with her reason more or less intact. As my brother Larry rightly points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us."

My Family and Other Animals is a memoir of the time Gerald Durrell and his family lived in Corfu, Greece. The family - Mother of uncertain age, Larry at age 23, Leslie at age 19, Margo at age 18, and Gerald at age 10 - tire of the English climate and decide to relocate to the Greek isle of Corfu. The book is a condensed description of the five years they live in Greece before returning to England.

The books co-mingles two purposes. First is a fictionalized and humorous account of their family life in Corfu. Second is a description of the some of the flora and fauna of Corfu which goes along with Gerald Durrell's work as a naturalist.

The account of the Durrell family is a liberalized, fictionalized version of their stay. The characters are true but exaggerated. The events and chronology are mixed to make a good story, "in order to compress five years .... into something a little less lengthy than the Encyclopedia Britannica." The eccentric characters are fun though. Larry is the budding writer. Margo is a teenage girl concerned about her appearance and her social life. Spiro is the taxi-driver they meet upon first arriving and who becomes a friend. Dr. Stephanides is the scholar who tutors Gerald and perhaps triggers his work as a naturalist. Gerald discovers his love for animals and the natural world.

The descriptions of the flora and fauna come through some of the pets that join the family. Roger the dog, Quasimodo the pigeon, Alecko the gull along with spiders, tortoises, birds, and other creatures become a part of this family's life. The book spends considerable time on the descriptions surrounding these creatures.

My biggest issue with the book was that of writing style. The book is very descriptive in nature. As such, I had difficulty staying engaged in the story. After a while, I found myself skimming through the descriptions to the parts that move the story forward. The story itself is told with humor and fun.

This book has been made into a movie and theater production. This is one instance I think that watching the story may be more fun than reading it.

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