I read My Family and Other Animals in year 10 English. I adored it and went on to read more of Gerald Durrell’s memoirs, of being a naturalist and collecting animals for various zoological places. I realised that of course this collecting of animals is slightly problematic, but he really does write well.
I watched the tv adaptation of the Durrells in Corfu a few years ago; and for some reason I was reminded of it again recently. Given current circumstances I thought something comforting would be the go. And then I discovered that for barely any more $$ I could get the entire Corfu trilogy – which I didn’t realise existed – rather than only My Family. So, of course, I did.
It’s one of those cases where the Suck Fairy hasn’t entirely ruined what you used to love… but there are definitely elements that were, um, problematic.
Firstly, the positives: while Durrell’s writing does occasionally veer dangerously close to purple, I still adore the evocative descriptions and once again was overcome with the desire to run away to Corfu and live in a rambling villa. Durrell makes Corfu of the 1930s sound like a child’s paradise, with long lazy days of botanical and zoological collecting. And Mum gets to spend all day gardening and cooking and knitting – except when bloody Larry has invited friends over. I enjoyed reading about Gerry’s adventures and he definitely has a turn of phrase when it comes to describing animals. I’ve always thought of magpies as Maggenpies.
However. There are definitely caveats for recommending anyone read this today. Firstly, there’s the condescending nature of Gerry and his family to the ‘peasants’ of Corfu. I guess Gerry is a kid and so he can be forgiven for the fact that he takes advantage of the kind-hearted nature of his neighbours who always want to feed him; but it does get painful. There’s also the odd bit of racism – unpleasant comparisons between races, for instance, and generalisations based on nationality or race. I suspect part of the reason there’s not more is that Gerry is generally disinterested in people, unless they can teach him about natural history or help him acquire animals. So that is something to keep in mind if you considered reading these stories.
Finally, I continue to find it hilarious that the louche and irritating older brother Larry who barely gets anything written because he’s talking about it rather than doing it, became Lawrence Durrell, famous author. And even more hilarious that his Dark Labyrinth is a novel I truly love.