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Literature / My Family and Other Animals

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"This is the story of a five-year sojourn that I and my family made on the Greek island of Corfu. It was originally meant to be mildly nostalgic account of a natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake in introducing my family into the book in the first few pages. Having got themselves on paper, they then proceeded to establish themselves and invite various friends to share the chapters. It was only with the greatest difficulty, and by exercising considerable cunning, that I managed to retain a few pages here and there to devote exclusively to animals."
Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other Animals (1956) is a hilarious semi-autobiographical account by British naturalist Gerald Durrell of his childhood spent living with his family on the Greek island of Corfu between 1935 and 1939, as well as various fauna of the island. Each of Gerry's family, as well as other characters, have their own idiosyncrasies, which help to make this one of the funniest books ever written. There's his long-suffering, widowed mother, who never seems to be surprised by anything; eldest brother Larry, who became another famous writer; middle brother Leslie, the gun nut; ditzy older sister Margo; over-protective family friend Spiro "Americano" Chalikiopoulos; and distinguished naturalist and king of Incredibly Lame Puns Dr Theodore Stephanides.

It has two sequels, Birds, Beasts and Relatives (1969) and The Garden of the Gods (1978), though these are not nearly as famous as the original. It has been adapted at least three times for television:

  1. 1987 BBC miniseries (starring BRIAN BLESSED as Spiro)
  2. 2005 BBC Made-for-TV Movie (starring Eugene Simon as Gerry and Imelda Staunton as Louisa)
  3. 2016–19 ITV series The Durrells (starring Keeley Hawes as Louisa)

It was also adapted for the stage in 2006.

This contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Based on a True Story: Not just shortened, but there are a few inaccuracies. Larry is depicted as living with the family, though at the time he was living in another part of Corfu with his wife Nancy (shown in the film briefly but not in the book). Also, the reason that the Durrells leave the island in the book is for continuing Gerry's education, rather than the real reason for needing to go back to England.
    • Somewhat Retconned: Birds Beasts and Relatives talks about the onset of the war. Spiro's response is typically hilarious.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Cecily the Mantis.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The Rose Beetle Man who never speaks.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Larry.
  • The Ditz: Margo.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Dodo. Gerry says that her Victorian ignorance of the facts of life is rather touching. The other dogs in the house don't even acknowledge her existence...until they discover she comes into season very regularly. She has the attention span of a goldfish and obsessively follows Gerry's mother around, even when she is in the bath. This is taken to a new level when she had her puppy and insists on carrying it around everywhere.
  • Feathered Fiend: Alecko, the seagull.
  • Free-Range Children: Gerry.
  • Gilligan Cut: Happens in the two last paragraphs. Also at the shift from Part 1 to Part 2:
    "We are not moving to another villa," said Mother firmly.
    (Next chapter starts)
    The new villa was enormous...
  • Great White Hunter: Leslie.
  • Hollywood Chameleons: Averted with the geckos and the lacewing beetles.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Theodore is full of these.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Larry's first attempt at hunting snipe.
  • Large Ham: Spiro, there's a reason why he was played by BRIAN BLESSED in one of the TV adaptations.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: Roger.
  • Morality Pet: Gerry for Larry. He's the one person we see Larry occasionnally trying to be nice to.
  • Never My Fault: As far as Larry is concerned, all his personality flaws are actually his mother's fault for raising him that way.
  • Pet Baby Wild Animal: Gerry has many of these, like Achilles the tortoise, Ulysses the scops owl, the Magenpies and Quasimodo the pigeon.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: The Magenpies, also to some extent Quasimodo who likes to dance to music.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Leslie finding snakes in the bath.
  • Scary Scorpions: Played straight when Gerry finds a mother scorpion with her babies, puts it in a matchbox that Larry brings to the breakfast table, hilarity ensues. Subverted by the fact that Gerry has a lot of respect for scorpions and wanted to raise a colony so he could study them more closely, but his family (unsurprisingly, all things considered) flatly refused.
  • Thieving Magpie: Larry constantly accuses the Magenpies of being thieves and says they'll have to bury their belongings with an armed guard over them. They're given the run of the house until they are caged. Then during a party, they manage to undo the lock on their cage and get drunk.