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Daily Mammal Book Club: MFAOA 1

Posted on Mar 16, 2009 by in Book Club | 13 comments

Cover of My Family and Other Animals

Welcome to the first book club meeting, mammals!

Let’s start talking about My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell! To keep it really simple, I thought I’d just throw out a few things and then open up for comments, and we’ll see how it works. Also, please don’t think that you can’t contribute to the discussion if you haven’t read the book: you definitely can!

I don’t know how far y’all are in your reading, so I’m going to talk about the beginning of the book, y’know, the first few chapters. Some of my thoughts:

• I love the merciless way he pigeonholes his family members into particular characterizations. Margo with her acne, Leslie with his guns, Larry with…oh, Larry. He’s the funniest of all. If you didn’t know, he’s Lawrence Durrell, who became a pretty well known author. I haven’t read any of his works, though, but it does make Gerry’s descriptions funnier, don’t you think, knowing that? And then there’s the poor put-upon mother.

• How about the very concise way Durrell passes the family through Europe on their way to Corfu? “France rain-washed and sorrowful, Switzerland like a Christmas cake, Italy exuberant, noisy, and smelly, were passed, leaving only confused memories.” Just those few words really do evoke a whole trip, somehow. (Page 6 in my Penguin paperback copy.)

• The very words “The Strawberry-Pink Villa” (the title of chapter 2) create a picture to me. I think Durrell’s combined gifts for humor and description are quite remarkable. I love the way he can almost just list things, like fuchsia hedges, creamy green shutters, white cobbled paths, luxurious bougainvillea, etc., and it creates this lush, exotic (to me), redolent world. (Do you know any other writers who do that? It kind of reminds me of Francesca Lia Block’s Los Angeles in her Weetzie Bat books: all orange trees and hot dog stands and pink stucco and convertibles.)

• What do you think about the narration being from a child’s point of view? It’s interesting how a child would necessarily see things differently from his family. I wonder if other members of the family (Larry, perhaps) have written memoirs of this time. It would be interesting to read their different perspectives.

• Speaking of children, what a paradise Gerry has there. It’s safe to explore endlessly, accompanied by your loyal dog, nature is lush and vibrant, school is minimal (do you like his school setup?), your family is amusing and indulgent, and strange characters are everywhere. What do you think of Durrell’s descriptions of the inhabitants of the island?

That’s enough from me for now. Pipe in and share your thoughts!


  1. Oh, I HATE Larry! Such a little snot! Ooh!

    Yeah, I also liked that quick run-through of Europe. It really got across the idea of the trip being a whirlwind, and also helped skip over the unimportant stuff and get to what the writer thought mattered. I think the mark of a very good writer is the ability to do that — glance over the stuff not essential to the story you’re telling.

    I’m only into chapter three so far, but I’m noticing how the author himself as a child seems to be the least explored character, being more of an observer to all the others. It actually does paint a picture of this boy as the shy, quiet, fly-on-the-wall type, and nicely echoes the lack of introspection most kids have, noticing everyone else’s habits while their own go unmentioned.

    If that makes any sense.

  2. Lawrence Durrell did write about the family adventures in Corfu in “Prospero’s Cell.” I have not read it yet but I am planning to after reading Gerald’s version. I checked to see if Larry was really a writer because I like his character so much.

  3. Ted: That’s a good insight about the nature of Gerry’s character: more of an observer than an actor. He does get out on his own a lot, but even then, it’s as an observer, being a little naturalist and all.

    Leah: Thanks for the info on Prospero’s Cell! Its subtitle is “A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu,” which certainly seems typical of Larry’s character vs. Gerry’s. It looks pretty good. I love Larry’s character too.

    Interestingly, I see from reading up on Lawrence that Gerald seems to have written Larry’s wife, Nancy Myers, out of the story. She accompanied them to Corfu in real life. I wonder what’s up with that. Certainly, Larry’s interactions with the rest of the family, especially his mother, would be very, very different if there were a wife around!

    There’s another related book, too: In the Footsteps of Lawrence Durrell and Gerald Durrell in Corfu (1935–1939).

    After getting a little way into the book, does anyone already want to visit Corfu? Have any of you been?

  4. I read this for school when I was 13. I was always amazed by how much colour there was in the descriptions of places. I think you’re right, “Strawberry Pink Villa” is very evocative.

    I would love to visit Corfu, especially since I found out they just completed a hiking trail from the north end to the south. You’d be walking through villages, vineyards, ruins…

  5. It is interesting that Gerry did not include Larry’s wife in the family characters. Larry appears to be the family decision maker and leader, taking them to Corfu and from house to house, and finding tutors for Gerry. Maybe Larry’s wife adopted the same feelings for him that Ted expressed!

  6. Came here from 3 Beautiful Things. Have read and re-read My Family and other Animals and love it. Every time I read it I see something different. After the last reading of it I searched online and found pictures of some of those houses Gerry describes.

  7. I visited Corfu as a small child. I remember it being very, very bright; and seeing grannies dressed in black bringing their shopping home from the market on the backs of donkeys.

    My father found a tortoise for us — it was gold and black and about the size of a dinner plate.

    My copy of the book has photos in it — Nancy is in some of those. She and Larry divorced eventually, so perhaps that’s why she’s not so much mentioned.

    I like Margo’s mangled proverbs, and her Turkish boyfriend who had no fear.

  8. I’ve just read a biography of Gerald Durrell and it mentions the Larry thing – in fact Larry was not living with them at the time. He lived in a separate house with his wife and only visited occasionally. I think it just makes for a better story with all the family all together, so I can understand why the book gives that impression.

    The whole book didn’t make me want to go to Corfu as such, but it did make me long for such an idyllic childhood. All the stories about snakes in the bath or bugs under the bed or whatever made me both laugh, and wish that I could do the same – that I had a family tolerant enough, or that I had a room big enough to keep such ‘pets’ of my own.

  9. Am I the only one who thinks Gerald sometimes is too descriptive? I feel like he overdoes the use of adjectives in some cases. But I am enjoying the book–although only through 4 chapters so far.

  10. @ Grace — my mother complains about the rich descriptions, too! She says it’s not at all like the Greek islands she remembers.

    I sometimes think he was trying to compete with Larry; but who can say… As I get older, I like more and more the leisurely pace of the books, but I do occasionally get impatient with the descriptions, and I’m all ‘do another funny story about animals doing something disgusting to upset your family.’

    @ Leah — just to clarify, that pic is from the TV series. There have been two, both lovely.

  11. @clare – sorry, I should have use quotation marks – didn’t think about it being misleading.

  12. This is a satisfying discussion so far! I’ve posted another installment here.

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