I bought a copy of My Family and Other Animals at Brattleboro Books in Vermont years ago, based (I think) on nothing more than the colorful cover. As is often the case with books I buy, it took me longer than intended to actually get around to reading it, but wow I’m glad I finally did. The book is set in Corfu, where the Durrells moved in the 1930s; it’s a mix of Gerald’s adventures observing the local flora and fauna and the family’s adventures in general, and it has a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments. (So far I’ve only watched one episode of the PBS series “The Durrells in Corfu”, which seems fun in its own way, but very different from the book.) When the book isn’t funny, it’s often quite beautiful, with the kind of descriptive language about nature that’s on the edge of being too much but that really works for me. Here’s a description of summer in Bournemouth, just before the Durrells leave England:

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. (3)

And here, in contrast, is Corfu:

The magnolia tree loomed vast over the house, its branches full of white blooms, like a hundred miniature reflections of the moon, and their thick, sweet scent hung over the veranda languorously, the scent that was an enchantment luring you out into the mysterious, moonlit countryside. (270)

Gerald, who’s ten when his family moves to Corfu, is fascinated by plants and animals, especially animals: he’s the kind of kid who can spend hours in the garden looking at insects, noticing how the spiders in the roses change color to match the flowers they’re on; he’s the kind of kind for whom finding an earwig’s nest is like “suddenly being given a wonderful present” (24). I loved reading about Gerald’s explorations of the island and its beaches and olive groves, and all the pets he acquires (starting with a tortoise who loves being fed grapes and a baby pigeon who moves differently to the waltzes and marches the family plays on the gramophone), and also about the general amusement of the family’s island life, from the Belgian consulate who keeps trying to speak to Gerald’s mother in French (she doesn’t speak French) to the giant party the family throws that’s disrupted by stray dogs trying to mate with Gerald’s mother’s dog, Dodo.

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