on 21 August 2008
This book has real charm. In a world where we are surrounded by depressing news from the media, this is a real treat. It's a window to a gentler time, where families had fun and creative genius existed.
The writing is engaging, warm and funny. The characters really spring to life, and rarely are both humans and animals portraid in such depth.
Above all, Durrell led the most remarkable of lives, and it's a privaledge to be guided through some its highlights. If you love either people, animals or funny stories, this is for you.
on 8 August 2006
My lifelong passion for Gerald Durrells books led me to buy this volume, and I was not disappointed. These stories of a rare time during his young years (I don't think many other children had a similar childhood!) together with these really informative and never dull descriptions of all the animal-life around him make this book hilarious; and for good measure all these tales about his unusual family and equally unusual greek friends thrown in, well, if you have a passion for nature and love good written stories, get it and start reading! (Though I will be forever sorry that he does not live any more...)
I started reading this in the middle of one snow storm and finished it three weeks later when we were snowed in again. These sun-filled tales of Corfiot life in the 1930's were a brilliant antidote to the snow and ice.
I had only previously read 'My Family & Other Animals', the first of the three autobiographical books brought together in this volume, and that was thirty years ago. I started with an element of uncertainty that I would find that a book that had enchanted me all those years ago would be somewhat disappointing in later life. I need not have worried. It is still an enchanting read for both adults and children, beautifully written, evoking a type of childhood that is probably gone now forever. It is also frequently 'laugh out loud' funny. I also enjoyed the two additional books which were new to me. They cover the same time period but enhance earlier stories of the family's life in Corfu and relate new ones.
If you have recently watched The Durrells on the TV then you will have noticed at the beginning when the titles come up that the series was inspired by the books that we have here. The actual books that comprise the trilogy are My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, and finally The Garden of the Gods. This kindle edition does have an active table of contents, so not only can you go to each book separately you can to each chapter if you so desire.
The first book here, My Family and Other Animals is the main piece, the other two books as such are really a collection of further reminiscences. There are things that you will find you know from the TV series, although there are differences as well, so don’t expect the two to be completely the same. Set in the Thirties the family are originally living in Bournemouth, when Larry the eldest son persuades his mother and the other siblings that a stay in somewhere such as sunny and hot Corfu is what the family needs. So mother, Larry, Leslie, Margo and Gerry (Gerald Durrell, the narrator) make their way to the lovely Greek island. Originally staying at a hotel, with the help of Spiro, a cab driver the family are soon settling into life in a villa.
As we see Spiro is of much help to the family, as is Theodore, who visits at least once a week. We see the strange and wonderful things that happen with this family and Gerry’s ever growing menagerie of animals, taking in all sorts, from dogs and a donkey, through birds to fish and insect life. As Gerald Durrell mentions at the very beginning this was going to be about the island of Corfu and its fauna, but he found that his family kept getting in the way, which for us is quite good as we get some wonderfully descriptive pieces about this beautiful island and its animal life, and the certain courtships and such like of some animals, along with some very humorous anecdotes about the Durrell family, and the inhabitants of the island.
As the family move about the island and stay at different villas we do meet new characters, always meaning that additions are made to the family’s acquaintances. With poor old mum having to look after the place and do the cooking, at the largest villa they rent she is helped by Lugaretzia, who is a hypochondriac. Larry is trying to write but is always inviting friends, and friends of friends to stay from the artistic community. Leslie loves his firearms and hunting, although he does like doing a bit of sailing. Margo is obsessed with her skin, fashion, and dieting, so as to keep to an ideal weight. Of course Gerry is wrapped up in animals and studying natural history. Trying to find Gerry someone to tutor him can be a bit of a headache, but Mr Kralefsky seems the best as he is also an ornithologist.
One thing is for certain, not only does this bring the island of Corfu and its flora and fauna to life, it also has some wonderful tales of the family and inhabitants of this island, where the people are mainly friendly and being eccentric is not uncommon.
If you enjoyed the TV series you should really enjoy these books.
on 26 December 2012
I first read this book aged 10 (now 48), I was enchanted by the descriptions of Corfu, I wanted to go there, and it lived up to my imagination when I finally did go many years later! This book still captivated me when reading it again. It captures the warmth and squabbles of family life, the beauty of Corfu and it's people. The characters are brought to life by the author. A gentle, fun read. I really enjoyed going back to the Corfu first visited in my head all those years ago.
on 5 July 2016
“My Family and Other Animals” is the most famous part of Gerald Durrell’s “Corfu Trilogy”, which describes his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu. It is also the only one which, in Britain at least, is still in print in its own right. I will not, however, say much about “My Family…” in this review, as I have reviewed it elsewhere. The other two parts are only available as part of this compendium volume, which I bought primarily for Part III, “The Garden of the Gods”. Unlike its two predecessors, I had never read this book before. (I am not sure why, given that it first came out in 1978, at the height of my youthful enthusiasm for all things Gerald Durrell- perhaps I missed it because I was too busy studying for exams).
I didn’t enjoy “The Garden of the Gods” quite so much as the other two books, possibly because Durrell was starting to run out of things to say about his stay on Corfu. There are some amusing anecdotes, such as his account of the visit of the King of Greece to Corfu, but his gift for characterisation is less marked here than elsewhere. Too often his characters seem more like stock types than believable individuals. The Count Rossignol, for example, seems less like a recognisable human being than a compendium of every English prejudice about the French. The two gay men Harry Honey and Lumy Lover are similarly dealt with in stereotypical terms. (At least, I presumed they were meant to be gay men, although Durrell seems to write about them with a deliberate ambiguity which leaves open the possibility that Lumy Lover might be a woman).
At the beginning “Birds, Beasts, and Relatives” Durrell describes a (probably imaginary) conversation with his family in which he informs them of his intention to write a sequel to “My Family….” and they, led by his elder brother Larry (who as Lawrence Durrell would go on to become a famous writer in his own right), threaten to sue him if he does. In reality, Lawrence Durrell does not seem to have resented the portrait drawn of him by his brother, describing the book as “very wicked, very funny, and I'm afraid rather truthful”, and the two remained close throughout their lives.
“Birds, Beasts, and Relatives” is not a “sequel” in the strict sense of the word- if it were, it would deal with the adventures of the Durrell family after their return to England. Instead, it is very much a rehash of the first book with the same mixture of natural history- even as a child Durrell had a passion for animals- and family anecdotes. It even keeps the same division into three parts corresponding to the three locations in which the family lived. There are a couple of inconsistencies between the two books; his tutor Mr Kralefsky, for instance, who was introduced to us as “John” in the first book, is here referred to as “Richard”. In “My Family…” Durrell tells us that he acquired his pet magpies (“the Magenpies”) while the family were living in the snow-white villa, the last of their three residences on Corfu, but here he refers to them in a chapter set at an earlier period while they were still living in the daffodil-yellow villa.
When I first read the book as a teenager, I assumed that every one of Durrell’s stories was quite literally true, but now I have my doubts on that subject, if only because many of the characters and incidents he describes are so splendid that I cannot see how, if they really existed or occurred, he managed to resist the temptation to introduce them into “My Family…”. The story of the disastrous yacht journey around the island undertaken by Larry and some friends does not quite ring true as Durrell never explains why his other brother Leslie, an expert sailor, was not invited to accompany them. Some of his anecdotes, however, such as his account of his dinner with the Countess, the story of his sister Margo’s involvement with spiritualism on a trip back to London and Leslie’s court case, are highly amusing. The final chapter, “The Angry Barrels”, which describes an idyllic afternoon and evening spent with friends on a wine-grower’s estate, must count as one of Durrell’s finest pieces of prose, and it takes on an added resonance because it is set during the summer of 1939, not long before the family’s idyll on Corfu was to be ended by the outbreak of war.
on 22 June 2016
I remembered loving these stories as a young teenager, so was enchanted to read them again - and I enjoyed them even more (now in my fifties!). Durrell has to be one of the very best descriptive prose writers, bringing the pre-war island of Corfu to life on the page, and the hilarious touches of humour as we meet local people and his remarkable family literally make you laugh out loud. This trilogy is a lovely publication as well, with clear easy-to-read print. Buy it and enjoy. Sadly Durrell's later writing deteriorated and this is the best of his early work - for a fascinating biography of a very complex man, read Douglas Botting's.