My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn

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My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An endearing memoir about the animals in Julia Blackburn's life which allow an insight into the people around her. A short, but fulfilling read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224082341

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The best thing about Julia Blackburn's childhood was the animals which lightened the burden of her parents' constant rows. My Animals and Other Family is primarily about the animals - from Congo the bushbaby through to Jason and Henry the dogs - but in telling of them she allows us an insight into the people around her. Her father was Thomas Blackburn, the poet, who would frequently return home drunk and spoiling for a fight with his artist wife, who would later complain to Julia of his violence and infidelity. Much of her childhood was spent in trying not to hear the rows.

Congo the bushbaby came from Harrods pet department, the gift of a friend of her father who thought that she needed companionship. He was her first love and would come when called, landing on her outstretched hand as soft as an answered wish. He slept in the hollow of a cap hung behind a door and soon the house was filled with the musty smell of bushbaby. There was a downside to this - a bushbaby does not house train well and there were streaks of his pee down the walls and piles of excrement, but this seems not to have worried Julia or her parents.

We watch Julia growing up accompanied by tropical fish (they were her religion), tortoises, guinea pigs, chickens and foxes. The two foxes had to be released back into the wild after they created havoc with the poultry but a school party picnicking near where they were released later reported that two foxes had approached them and shared their sandwiches. Pig keeping came when Julia moved to the countryside and had a family of her own and her stories of their almost-human antics had me chortling with delight.

I was also delighted by the writing in this memoir. It flows like poetry, with each sentence crafted and never a superfluous word. I frequently found myself rereading paragraphs, not for the content, but just for the pleasure they gave. She captures the spirit of the animals, from the tropical fish she bought with her pocket money through to the spaniel her father thought too servile and the Jack Russell who went mountaineering with her father after he and her mother divorced. Jason's behaviour when her father was around reflected the troubles within the family, returning to his normal self when Thomas departed.

Some of the illustrations by Julia's husband, sculptor Herman Makkink, are endearing and amusing - I laughed at the tortoise heads which reminded Julia of her grandfather - but one or two just seemed to miss the mark. The picture of eleven-year old Julia with Congo where she's described as 'plump and uncertain' made me think of someone rather older with what my mother would have described as 'a rather knowing look'. It's a minor quibble though in an otherwise enjoyable memoir.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you obviously enjoy My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - now what made me think of that? - but you might also enjoy An Otter On The Aga by Rex Harper.

Buy My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn at

Buy My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Animals and Other Family by Julia Blackburn at


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