There are some books that I have read many times over the years, and that I enjoy just as much each time. One, which I have just re-read for probably the fifth or sixth time, is Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and other Animals”. I vividly remember reading this for the first time when I was eleven years old. My sister had been very ill and we had been packed off to a relative’s farm for the summer holidays. I was given “Rosy is my relative” (also by Durrell) for Christmas, and then proceeded to read every other one of his books that I could find.
But “My Family and other Animals” is the only one that I read and read again. Reading it now, a couple of things strike me. Firstly, people just don’t write like this any more. The poetic turn of phrase, the lyrical descriptions, the careful characterization seems to have gone out of fashion. Which is, in my opinion, a great shame. Secondly, despite the fact that it was first published in 1956, it has not dated at all. Even though it is about a long-gone time, and was written in a long-gone era, it still seems quite fresh. Thirdly, it is deeply and genuinely funny without being in the least bit cruel or sarcastic. Durrell clearly observed the people around him just as closely as he did the creatures, and describes them in much the same way.
I was a little perturbed when I looked something up on the internet and discovered that some of the story at least must have been fictionalized because the circumstances of their leaving England are not true (Lawrence Durrell had left sometime before the rest of the family) and Lawrence Durrell’s wife, who was most certainly in Corfu at the time, does not figure at all. Despite this, Lawrence Durrell did say: “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.”
Sadly, we don’t seem to have enduring, famous “characters” today as we did in the past. Gerald Durrell was certainly famous in a long-lasting way, and I can’t think of a modern personality who is likely to endure similarly – and I doubt that there are many books that are going to weather time as well either. If you have not read this book recently – or (is it possible?) have never read it all – then I’d really recommend that you get it out of the library in the very near future. It is a pleasure to read, and brought me real joy.