Friday, October 20, 2006

My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and other Animals

I’m re-reading this old favourite for the umpteenth time. I hesitate to call it a classic, as all too often it can be interpreted as weighty or inaccessible and Gerald Durrell’s writing is none of those things. Light and sparkling descriptions of his childhood in Corfu, hilarious anecdotes of his eccentric family and his absorbing interest in all things animal, conveyed with such enthusiam that it delighted me as a child reading it for the first time, just as much as it does when I revisit it now as an adult.

His family fled cloudy grey Bournemouth in the 1930’s for the scintillating shores of Greece long before tourism and package holidays changed the face of the Meditteranean. Unspoilt beaches, welcoming locals and a selection of dilapidated villas are the background for his story and it is peopled by his family: his older brothers - Lawrence, the writer whose prose is indeed weighty and impenetrable and Leslie mostly interested in sport of the double-barrelled variety, his sister Margo suffering the usual adolescent angst over her appearence and his mother, delightfully vague pottering around her kitchen preparing lavish meals. Gerald Durrell has a sure eye for the absurd and many lightning sketches of the eccentric guests who visit them and the tutors who occasionally try to educate him, as well as Spiro the Greek taxi driver who adopts them, enliven the pages.

I recommend this to anyone, who needs a dose of sparkling sunshine and refreshing, gentle humour and as a bonus you can learn about the tortoises’ courtship rituals, how scorpions raise their young and plenty more amusingly related snippets of natural history. Gerald Durrell was to me what Animal Planet is these days to my son, only in a more distilled form, an introduction to the endless variety of animal life and more importantly conveying such enthusiasm for it that you can’t help but be interested. Some of the stories may well have you giggling hysterically out loud, so read it in public at your peril!

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