(Current fiction and quality fiction of the past.)
Examiner ranks Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet high among quality summer reading, having just personally begun a revisit with “Justine” (E. P. Dutton & Co). The reader becomes involved with the very first sentences . . .
The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of witner you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in the sheltered places, and now the wind ujnpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes . . .
I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child – Milissa’s child. — Copyright © Lawrence Durrell
The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature best describes the Quartet: “Series of four novels by Lawrence Durrell. The lush and sensuous tetralogy, which consists of Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), and Clea (1960), is set in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1940s.
“Three of the books are written in the first person, Mountolive in the third. The first three volumes describe, from different viewpoints, a series of events in Alexandria before World War II; the fourth carries the story forward into the war years. The events of the narrative are mostly seen through the eyes of one L.G. Darley, who observes the interactions of his lovers, friends, and acquaintances in Alexandria.
“In Justine, Darley attempts to recover from and understand his recently ended affair with Justine Hosnani. Reviewing various papers and examining his memories, he reads the events of his recent past in romantic terms. Balthazar, named for Darley’s friend, a doctor and mystic, reinterprets Darley’s views from a philosophical and intellectual point of view. The third novel is a straightforward narrative of events, and Clea, volume four, reveals Darley healing, maturing, and becoming capable of loving Clea Montis, a painter and the woman for whom he was destined.”
The Alexandria Quartet is often proffered as a boxed set. Examiner owns the original Dutton Paperbacks set. Currently, Amazon offers the Penguin edition of 1991. Barnes and Noble offers the Gardners Books boxed set of 2005, but indicates “not available” currently.
In a review for Amazon, William Weinstein, London, UK, wrote: “The great sweep of Durrell’s quartet is almost impossible to describe. His characters and the evocation of wartime Alexandria are so perfect that you can taste the perfume on Justine’s neck, hear the call from the mosques and smell the blood of camels butchered in the streets. Here are poets and prostitutes, diplomats and gun runners. There are scenes of lust and love and violence and despair. The characters mutate as the story unfolds and then convolutes upon itself again. We are as confused as the characters themselves and never find ourselves in a position where we understand events before they do. Myriad scenes tumble upon each other; a bird shoot on Lake Mareotis, the masqued ball, the strange death of Pursewarden, the dreadful death of Narouz. Across four volumes Durrell seldom puts a foot wrong and while his florid prose is not to everyone’s taste, nobody can deny that this is one of the under rated classics of the twentieth century. After the grim years of the Second World War and the grey, slow grind of the 1950s, the novel must have burst upon literary Europe like a comet streaking across the sky. It is an essential book for anyone who considers themselves well-read.” — Copyright © Amazon
Examiner highly recommends The Alexandria Quartet — for summer or any other time.
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