My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is a novel concerning an English family, the Durrells, who suddenly leave their home in Britain in order to move to the Greek island of Corfu. This book is told from the viewpoint of Gerald Durrell, the youngest member of the family, who gives a detailed account of certain incidents that are imprinted in his mind, of the family’s five year stay in Corfu. Many of the anecdotes capture the most interesting of the family’s encounters with the island and it’s inhabitants but the main theme is of two intertwined worlds; that of animals and wildlife, with that of people. Because of Gerry and his extreme love of nature, many of his pets and family members meet frequently, resulting in chaotic situations.
Once in Corfu, the Durrells encounter a great number of characters that are both eccentric and a little flamboyant and it is these characters on which the story is based, along with the many pets that Gerry acquires throughout his time in Greece. It is from these characters and their outlandish ways that much of the entertainment comes and to the reader, it may often seem, that even though My Family and Other Animals is a true story, that the island and its inhabitants are slightly exaggerated.
Upon arrival in Corfu, the Durrells face a number of problems in finding a villa and understanding the Greek language. When having difficulty communicating with taxi drivers, the family meets one of the most amusing and significant characters in the story, Spiro. This individual helps the Durrells through their dilemmas in finding a suitable villa, dealing with the Customs official and generally in settling in and getting started in a new place with a new life. Throughout this time, Gerry, a young naturalist, finds much pleasure in roaming the island and discovering all of Mother Nature’s creations. During these expeditions, he meets a great many people all of whom with which he soon becomes acquainted. On these daily explorations, Gerry soon comes across a curious man, from whom he buys his first pet, a turtle. This character, because of the innumerable rose beetles he keeps, soon comes to be known as the Rose-Beetle Man. After only a few weeks in Corfu, the family comes across another problem, the necessity for Gerry to have a proper education. To resolve the situation as promptly as possible, it is arranged that George, an old writing friend of Larry’s (Gerry’s oldest brother) be left with the task of teaching Gerry. Through George, Gerry soon comes to meet Doctor Theodore Stephanides, an expert naturalist, with whom he soon becomes close friends. Both share a great love for natural history and in a short time Gerry becomes Theodore’s companion . After a relatively short time in Corfu, the family decides that they must move villa in order to accommodate a multitude of Larry’s guests. Because of this unexpected move, Gerry, again, is left without any source of education and as a result it is arranged that he be tutored by the Belgian consul (George no longer tutors Gerry). Outside of his regular lessons, Gerry spends most of his time learning as much as he possibly can about all the species of wildlife that roam the island and soon obtains an immense number of pets including three dogs, two magpies, a gull, a pigeon, snakes and a gecko. Once again, as he is in a new environment, Gerry spends his time investigating his surroundings and becoming familiar with nature. He continues with his education but not long after this move, the Durrells move again for various different reasons. As the Belgian consul can no longer teach Gerry in their new location, yet another tutor is found for him; a person by the name of Kralefsky who appears to be an eccentric bird-lover. As both Kralefsky and Gerry share the same interests, they become immediate friends and even though Gerry is not too keen on his lessons, he learns a great deal about ornithology. With all of these fascinating characters on the island, and Gerry’s menagerie of animals, the Durrells five year stay in Corfu is full of excitement and peculiar encounters. The novel concludes when it is decided, by Mr. Kralefsky and Mrs. Durrell, that the time had come for Gerry to go somewhere else in Europe to finish his education. Because of this, the Durrells’ vacation comes to a close when the entire family packs up all their belongings and leaves Corfu, their home, to return after five years, to England.
During their time in Corfu, the Durrells come upon a variety of different people all of whom contribute to the story in their own unique way. Among this group of people, the ones that are imprinted in my mind are Spiro, Kralefsky, and Lugaretzia the maid. Even though they are real characters, many of them are so eccentric that they often seem exaggerated in the things that they do and say, adding individuality to the book.
In my opinion, Spiro, the first friend that the Durrells make in Corfu, is one of the most funny and important characters in the story. The ‘short, barrel-bodied individual, with ham-like hands and a great, leathery, scowling face surmounted by a jauntily-tilted peaked cap’ and his determination to get his own way no matter what, makes him one of the most amusing characters even though he always means well. With his terrible English and his booming voice, Spiro, a taxi driver, has great effect over everyone on the island. He wants to be the ‘man of the Durrell household’, constantly organizing everyone and running all the errands. With his bouncy, fun-loving personality, Spiro soon becomes one of the family, advising Mrs. Durrell on Margo (Gerry’s only sister) and on how to handle the three boys. He is always ready to help, in his own unique way and constantly brings laughter and amusement to the family. To the novel, he brings great entertainment and the reader is constantly kept laughing. His strange English, made up of a great deal of swear words, along with his Grecian accent and the amusing things he says, bring a lot of character to the book and keeps the reader enthralled.
Another unusual character and one that is easily remembered by the reader, is Kralefsky, Gerry’s last and most successful tutor. This individual ‘not a human being at all, but a gnome who had disguised himself as one by donning an antiquated but very dapper suit’, is quite an eccentric as well, but immediately finds something he has in common with Gerry, his passion for natural history. He is a man that is full of thoughts and dreams, often in his own world when surrounded by his collection of birds. In addition, he likes to entertain, constantly telling creative stories that somehow always seem to involve Ladies. Kralefsky is a very imaginative character, and because of this, he teaches Gerry a great deal and broadens his perspective on life. The two soon become close friends and both learn an immense amount from one another. To the story, he brings humor and a personality that is quite peculiar, which is great entertainment for the reader.
A third odd character in this novel, that adds a lot to the story is Lugaretzia, the Durrells’ maid. She is the wife of the gardener who looks after the Durrells’ estate and Mrs. Durrell soon employs her as a helping hand in the villa. Little did the family know that Lugaretzia, as she is called, is a melancholy old woman whose main obsession lies in the discussion of her ailments. Constantly moaning about her stomach, her feet, her head and all other parts of her body, Lugaretzia is an over-sensitive individual, coming to pieces at the slightest criticism. She is a dismal lady who somehow seems to be in constant pain and is always seeking sympathy from whomever she can. Even though SHE is the hired aid, it appears that it is her who always needs a helping hand. At first, the family finds it hard to get accustomed to Lugaretzia and her problems, but after a while they learn how to deal with her. Even though she has only a small role in the story, Lugaretzia brings a great deal of amusement to the readers with her daily bulletins on the state of her health and her endless groans. She brightens up what might usually be a boring routine for the Durrells and even though some of the situations might not be pleasant for their family, they are humorous for the reader.
Generally, I enjoyed the book for its humor as well as its eccentric characters, and found it amusing to see different situations through the eyes of Gerry, the youngest member of the family. Many of the passages illustrating the island and its wildlife are very descriptive and give the reader the sense of actually being there but occasionally these excerpts are overly depicted, thus making it slightly boring. After reading this novel, I realize that in this world there are numerous different people and in meeting any of them one must learn to deal with each and every individual in a special way. These encounters should be taken upon with an open-mind and in this way, we are able to develop our outlook on life.