My Family and Other Animals
|My Family and Other Animals|
|Series||Gerald Durrell's Corfu Saga|
|Subject||Gerald Durrell's life in Corfu|
|Publisher||Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd; several others|
|ISBN||ISBN 0755111974 (hardcover edition)
ISBN 0141321873 (paperback edition)
|Followed by||Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, The Garden of the Gods|
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 Corfu trilogy, together with Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, and The Garden of the Gods.
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 is an autobiographical account of five years in the childhood of naturalist Gerald Durrell, age 10 at the start of the saga, of his family, pets and life during a sojourn on the island of Corfu. The book is divided into three sections, marking the three villas where the family lived on the island. Apart from Gerald (the youngest) and Larry, the family comprised their widowed mother, the gun-mad Leslie, and diet-obsessed sister Margo together with Roger the dog. They are fiercely protected by their taxi-driver friend Spiro (Spiros "Americano" Halikiopoulos) and mentored by the polymath Dr. Theodore Stephanides who provides Gerald with his education in natural history. Other human characters, chiefly eccentric, include Gerald's private tutors, the artistic and literary visitors Larry invites to stay, and the local peasants who befriend the family.
The human comedy is interspersed by descriptions of the animal life which Gerald observes on his expeditions around the family homes, island, and seashore and which he frequently brings back and keeps as pets; these include Achilles the tortoise, Quasimodo the pigeon, Ulysses the Scops owl, numerous spiders, Alecko the gull, puppies named Widdle and Puke, and the birds known as the Magenpies.
The book was written 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. The 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".
Television and film
My Family and Other Animals was made into an eight-part BBC television series in 1987 written by Charles Wood and directed by Peter Barber-Fleming. It starred Hannah Gordon and Brian Blessed, with Darren Redmayne playing the young Gerry. In 2005, it was remade by the BBC into a 90-minute film, titled My Family and Other Animals, starring Eugene Simon as the young Gerry, with Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Durrell and Omid Djalili as Spiro. This adaptation was written by Simon Nye.
In 2006, the Jersey Arts Centre's Theatre in Education company produced the first stage version, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the book's publication in 1956. Adapted and directed by Daniel Austin, the play premiered on 22 February 2007 at Rouge Bouillon School in St Helier.
Several works have referenced the title of Durrell's book, including Simon Doonan's memoir Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints, Kirin Narayan's memoir My Family and Other Saints, and Josephine Feeney's novel My Family and Other Natural Disasters. In the Discworld series of books, there is reference to a fictional book titled My Family and Other Werewolves.
- Botting, Douglas (1999). Gerald Durrell – the authorised biography. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-255660-X.
- Durrell, Jacquie (1967). Beasts in My Bed. Collins.
- Hughes, David (1997). Himself & Other Animals – a portrait of Gerald Durrell. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-180167-2.
- "Drama - My Family and Other Animals". BBC. Retrieved 2011-01-27.
- "Jersey - Living Here - Durrell to take centre stage". BBC. Retrieved 2011-01-27.