My Family and Other Animals is an autobiographical work by naturalist Gerald Durrell, telling of the part of his childhood he spent on the Greek island of Corfu between 1935 and 1939. It describes the life of the Durrell family on the island in a humorous manner, and also richly discusses the fauna of the island. It is the first and most famous of Durrell’s
Durrell had already written several successful books about his trips collecting animals in the wild for zoos when My Family and Other Animals came out in 1956. Its comic exaggeration of the foibles of his family – especially his eldest brother Lawrence Durrell, who later became a famous novelist – and heartfelt appreciation of the natural world made it very successful. It launched Durrell’s career as owner of the Jersey Zoological Park (now Durrell Wildlife Park) in the Channel Islands, as well as novel-writer and television personality; and was also influential in the development of tourism in Corfu.
The book was writt
en in 1955 in Bournemouth, where Durrell was recuperating from a severe attack of jaundice. Whereas Durrell often claimed to find writing a chore, this book was different: his first wife Jacquie recalled “Never have I known Gerry work as he did then; it seemed to pour out of him”. Durrell maintained “he had started off like a good cook with three ingredients which, delicious alone, were even better in combination: namely, the spellbinding landscape of a Greek island before tourism succeeded in spoiling it for tourists; his discovery of and friendship with the wild denizens, both animal and Greek, of that island; and the eccentric conduct of all members of his family.” The book was an instant success.
Although My Family is presented as autobiographical, if not completely objective, the events described are not always true – in particular Larry lived in another part of Corfu with his first wife Nancy Durrell, whom Gerald does not mention at all. Th
e chronology of events as they occur in the book is also inaccurate, and the reason for the Durrells’ departure from Corfu (World War II) is not given; instead, it is implied that the family returned to England for the sake of Gerald’s education.
However, the book does succeed in preserving the impressions of ten- to fifteen-year-old Gerald extremely vividly and with a great deal of light-hearted humour. Despite the omissions and inaccuracies, Lawrence Durrell commented “This is a very wicked, very funny, and I’m afraid rather truthful book – the best argument I know for keeping thirteen-year-olds at boarding-schools and not letting them hang about the house listening in to conversations of their elders and betters”.