Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

I'm going to do my catch-up posts backwards, last book read first, because I think it would be best to write about what's freshest in my mind, rather than adding to the backlog of books that I can't recall much about. I finished reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, this morning. The cover shown is my favorite available cover. The one I have is in a bound book called The Corfu Trilogy but I'm not reading all three books at once, so I'll write about them individually, as I finish each of the books.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell tells about Durrell's family, their move from England to Corfu, and many enchanting tales about their adventures, mishaps, and the exploration of the island by young Gerald, who was then somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. I bought The Corfu Trilogy because I've been enjoying The Durrells in Corfu on PBS and wanted to read more about the family. I was already familiar with Durrell, although I've never read him, because I bought a copy of one of his other books, The Overloaded Ark, many years ago. My husband read it and told me it was a terrific book but I kept putting off reading it and it's still on the good shelves (probably 20 years post-purchase). I considered reading that, instead, but decided that the whole point was that I wanted to read about the family's time in Corfu. I can read The Overloaded Ark, later.

Good decision. I cannot even begin to describe how entertaining Gerald's writing is. Huzzybuns told me The Overloaded Ark was funny and I've never forgotten that, but you really have to read My Family and Other Animals to understand how someone can not only do a fabulous job of describing the various characters in his life with humor and affection but also make hunting for and examining animals that are often pretty revolting sound intriguing. Durrell had a singular talent for description, dialogue, and retelling of events in a way that entertains. My Family and Other Animals will definitely go down as a favorite 2016 read and a classic worth holding onto.

My Family and Other Animals was first published in 1955 and The Durrells in Corfu is actually the second television adaptation. I only know this because, as I closed the book, I decided to look up the DVD to see if it was reasonably priced. The reviews were shockingly polarized and I was curious about that, so I read quite a few of them to find out why. It seems the original series stuck very close to the book itself, while The Durrells in Corfu is more of a series that's based upon the books. I knew this, of course, as I read stories like that of the scorpion (which bites Leslie in the TV series but not in the book) and the murderer who befriends young Gerry (but without Mrs. Durrell feeling obligated to look into his background).

There's also plenty of conflict in the book but I agree that the Durrells often come off as more snappy and rude in the series than in the book. Mrs. Durrell, in particular, is an incredibly relaxed individual, easily persuaded to do her children's bidding. In the book, they live in not one but three different villas because one of the children periodically encourages her to move; but, she comes off as a worrier and her character is the unexpected focus of the stories in the series. So, the reviewers are right that the new series is quite different from the book, but that didn't bother me because I was already enjoying the TV series and in the book I could see the roots of the characters, if not the exact replication of them. I hope that makes sense.

Highly recommended - One of the most entertaining nonfiction reads I've ever found, the kind of book that you want to shove into all of your friends' hands. It is such fun. I would dive directly into the next book in the trilogy, if not for the fact that I have some nonfiction ARCs that I need to get to. It will be interesting to see how long I can keep from opening the second book, though. The writing is that good.

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  1. Durrell is one of my favorite writers- he is just so much fun to read. Really entertaining. I haven't got around to watching the tv adaptation yet, but I do want to!

    1. If he's one of your favorite authors, you'll probably be disappointed by the adaptation because it really does not stick closely to the book at all. I think I might have had trouble with it if I'd read Durrell first, then watched it. But, it's fun and maybe if you approach it from the perspective that it's based upon the books without sticking to the true stories, you might enjoy it.

  2. When shelf-reading (making sure the books are in order) at the library, I've come across this book and been intrigued by it, even before the series. Now I might have to actually check it out, based on your review. I do think it makes sense what you said about the characters being different on the show from the book but still being the same at the root. Sometimes books and movies or TV don't match in adaptations, but that's okay sometimes. Personally, I hated Shoeless Joe but W.P. Kinsella, but loved Field of Dreams on which it was based, for one example.

    1. Bryan, you really must read it. The writing is exceptional and you can't help but fall in love with the characters, the time, and the place. Interesting about Shoeless Joe. I've always meant to read it because I love Field of Dreams. Yes, I do think that's not a terrible thing that sometimes the characters are grounded in the story without being exact in their film portrayal. Sometimes it really works just fine. I am glad I watched the first season of The Durrells in Corfu before reading the book because I think I was probably less disappointed reading in that order, at least in this case, but I've done both and it doesn't seem to matter to me. If anything, I like to sit back and imagine what was going through the heads of those who altered characters or scenes for film and try to figure out why they made those choices. I think it's pretty clear they wanted to focus on the mother rather than the young naturalist in the series about the Durrells, for example. Cool. I'm fine with that.


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