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The Alexandria Quartet

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Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of Justine(1957) Balthazar(1958) Mountolive(1958) Clea(1960). Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war. One L.G. Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of Justine(1957) Balthazar(1958) Mountolive(1958) Clea(1960). Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war. One L.G. Darley is the primary observer of the events, which include events in the lives of those he loves and those he knows. In Justine, Darley attempts to recover from and put into perspective his recently ended affair with a woman. Balthazar reinterprets the romantic perspective he placed on the affair and its aftermath in Justine, in more philosophical and intellectual terms. Mountolive tells a story minus interpretation, and Clea reveals Darley's healing, and coming to love another woman.


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Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of Justine(1957) Balthazar(1958) Mountolive(1958) Clea(1960). Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war. One L.G. Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of Justine(1957) Balthazar(1958) Mountolive(1958) Clea(1960). Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war. One L.G. Darley is the primary observer of the events, which include events in the lives of those he loves and those he knows. In Justine, Darley attempts to recover from and put into perspective his recently ended affair with a woman. Balthazar reinterprets the romantic perspective he placed on the affair and its aftermath in Justine, in more philosophical and intellectual terms. Mountolive tells a story minus interpretation, and Clea reveals Darley's healing, and coming to love another woman.

30 review for The Alexandria Quartet

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    Lawrence Durrell, to me, has to be the most celebrated English novelist of the 20th century. I’ve read all of his books but "The Alexandria Quartet" is unquestionably his most brilliant work in the period just before the Second World War in Alexandria. It was originally four novels: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea and they have been combined into this work. I read this book about twenty years ago and I look at it from time to time just to read the exquisite style. I still love it. I think Lawrence Durrell, to me, has to be the most celebrated English novelist of the 20th century. I’ve read all of his books but "The Alexandria Quartet" is unquestionably his most brilliant work in the period just before the Second World War in Alexandria. It was originally four novels: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea and they have been combined into this work. I read this book about twenty years ago and I look at it from time to time just to read the exquisite style. I still love it. I think in all that I prefer the section on Mountolive. There he becomes involved with Leila, an older woman, and married. He keeps in touch with her and then goes back to see her many years later. Always a twist and something else... All I can say, if someone asked me if I only had one book that I could possibly keep, what would that be? Well unquestionably the Alexandria Quartet. I just find it so impossible to describe this fantastic style of writing. The author's vocabulary is breathtaking and the writing is just pure elegance.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Terrington

    "I suppose...that if you wished somehow to incorporate all I am telling you into your own Justine manuscript now, that you would find yourself with a curious sort of book - the story would be told, so to speak, in layers...a series of novels with 'sliding panels'" Balthazar, p. 338 Justine A rhythmic, rolling book, without too much plot to speak of. However as a novel it works brilliantly as a sort of literary expose` about human relationships and love. If there is one thing you can take away from "I suppose...that if you wished somehow to incorporate all I am telling you into your own Justine manuscript now, that you would find yourself with a curious sort of book - the story would be told, so to speak, in layers...a series of novels with 'sliding panels'" Balthazar, p. 338 Justine A rhythmic, rolling book, without too much plot to speak of. However as a novel it works brilliantly as a sort of literary expose` about human relationships and love. If there is one thing you can take away from reading this it is the sensuous, evocative and delectable language. It is a treat for the literary senses. One of the criticisms of modern books like A Game of Thrones, Kraken and Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West is that collectively they try too hard to be gritty, atmospheric or 'sexy'. Justine, in contrast, is a prime example of how to write an atmospheric novel with an underlying exploration of sexuality without appearing to physically strain words through a blender. The language is organic, not relying upon cursing or vivid description of sexual organs. Rather, skilful use of adjectives creates the right sense and connotation for the reader to understand what Durrell aims to say about love and sensuality. The main criticism of this novel is the apparent lack of plot. That said, there appears to be no plot merely because the plot is buried within woven language of such elaboration and complexity that any linear plot as readers normally understand them can be hard to observe. Justine was still a beautiful start to this quartet and easily a 4 and a half star book. Balthazar This novel is far more difficult to understand than its predecessor, Justine due to what appeared to be shifts in the narrative chronology and also narrator. Durrell changes his narrators in subtle ways, meaning that you have to be focusing intently to grasp the inner complexities of the story, making it in many ways similar to Titus Groan (albeit less bizarre, yet the 'thickness' of the text is very similar). In many ways this makes Balthazar a stronger novel than Justine and a weaker novel. This appears a weaker novel simply because those who found the first book lacking in plotting may find this second novel a tedious venture. As mentioned the changes in narrator (and possibly timeframe for the viewpoint) create a challenge for the reader. Yet it feels as if Durrell purposefully makes his work complex in order to allow the reader to observe that love and relationships are complex and often very messy, particularly the 'modern' way love is approached by individuals as a free-for-all. It also appears that Durrell's intentions are more clear in this novel as to what he is attempting to achieve, hence making it a stronger work entirely. His skills as a wordsmith and stylist (which leads one to compare him to Mervyn Peake) are fully on display in phrases like "the cloying grunting intercourse of saxophones and drums" and "The dark tides of Eros, which demand full secrecy if they are to overflow the human soul...". The first phrase particularly fascinated me because it indicated a subtle sense of humour in the writing, which I assume, given by Durrell's intelligent nature, is intentional. This humour stems from the fact that the word for Jazz, which Durrell powerfully describes, originally came from a word meaning the act of intercourse. The second phrase in conjunction with the first, also reveals that though Durrell is a classy poetic writer (the evocation of Eros is sublime) he has a hint of earthiness to his quality. In other words he is both a man of the gentry or bourgeoisie as well as the peasantry. On the whole easily a five star novel. Very highly recommended for anyone who appreciates literary novels, classics or fine prose over traditional plotting. Mountolive Perhaps the weakest of all the four novels in this tetralogy, Mountolive again takes the reader back through the narrative arc of the first two novels. Yet even through its weakness this novel reveals the strength of the overall work, the ability to weave a portrayal of a city and its people into a complex analysis of politics and modern love. Often, when a writer travels back over narratives already familiar to the reader, what events will occur next is rather obvious. Yet Durrell is able to convince the reader that they understand very little of the events of the previous books, unearthing new layers and new details for the reader. In particular the hidden elements connected to espionage and war profiteering. Yet, as mentioned, Mountolive, for whatever reason, is weaker than the other four tales in the entire Alexandria Quartet. Perhaps it is the fact of how the narrative shifts to other characters than in previous novels and in the final novel. The main character of this novel, the titular David Mountolive, is a less fascinating and enigmatic character and the encounters he has are, from his perspective, less engaging to the reader. That said, the scenes with Pursewarden in this novel are some of its greatest aspects and not to be missed by any reader. Four stars. Clea It is in Clea that the full experimental and unique nature of this entire work is revealed. Lawrence Durrell, in the previous books, had experimented with chronology and nesting narratives into the tale, yet in Clea this experimentation reaches a glorious crescendo. Where the previous three novels had followed the same plotline from different perspectives, Clea takes the reader into the future to observe what happens to the characters after . For the most part the conclusions are not happy or beautiful, rather they reveal a sense of the corrupting influence of the city. Yet this novel is the most beautifully written of all of them in how it merges poetry and prose into an exploration of the impact of modern love. Ultimately the conclusion that can be drawn from this novel is that in acting selfish one can expect ill gains in the future. Where the idea of 'free love' had entered the public awareness Durrell seems to suggest that love is never free. Indeed, he seems to challenge the reader as to the nature of real, healthy love and ask them to observe that sexual love is a defining knowledgeable act. That love in its entirety is also deep and complex, much like the narration's flow is also an aspect of this final conclusion's didactic tale. Five stars. The Entire Work As a work of fiction The Alexandria Quartet in its entirety is profound, serenely beautiful and complex. It reminds the reader of Ulysses in how it experiments with the reader's understanding of plot lines and it reminds one of The Great Gatsby in its poetic prose style. Yet this is a unique work, one of those which shall be remembered for years as a truly classic novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Looking over the Goodreads reviews of this tetralogy, I find almost everyone gave it either five stars with the note that it's the greatest work they have ever read and that it changed their lives, to one or two stars marked by utter impatience. I can identify with both. There are breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of every aspect of nature, light, desert, sea, wildlife; and repeated descriptions of the lovely, decadent, and deadly city of Alexandria. Durrell makes you feel the heat, smell Looking over the Goodreads reviews of this tetralogy, I find almost everyone gave it either five stars with the note that it's the greatest work they have ever read and that it changed their lives, to one or two stars marked by utter impatience. I can identify with both. There are breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of every aspect of nature, light, desert, sea, wildlife; and repeated descriptions of the lovely, decadent, and deadly city of Alexandria. Durrell makes you feel the heat, smell the fragrances, and taste on the wind both the dust of the desert and the salt of the Mediterranean Sea. He also can let his prose run away with him--"[He found himself] a prey to gravitational forces which lie inherent in the time-spring of our acts, making them spread, ramify and distort themselves; making them spread as a stain will spread upon a white ceiling." Block that metaphor! In spite of occasional excesses like this, Durrell rendered me as helplessly enchanted as the five-star readers, but eventually as irritated as the two-stars. This work is about everything, and thus about nothing in particular. It is about memory and its illusions; about every form of love you can imagine, including brother-sister incest; about faith and betrayal, both human and religious; about art and its causes (supernatural forces? genius? luck? work?); about the inadequacy of words for accurate communication (he complains at one point that even his wonderful descriptions are only the verbal equivalent of a monochrome snapshot); about the impossibility of ever capturing truth by means of memory and expression. After a thousand pages, I was hoping for some resolution, some admission that, although the truth is not possible, we can at least make better and better approximations; but resolution would have been untrue to the fundamental claims the work was trying to make. I have a friend who has read this work three times since it came out around 1960, with a different (but always admiring) view of it each time. I can see possibly tackling it again in 10 years or so, but right now I've absorbed all I can.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    "Zeus gets Hera on her back But finds that she has lost the knack. Extenuated by excesses She is unable, she confesses. Nothing daunted Zeus, who wise is Tries a dozen good disguises. Eagle, ram, and bull and bear Quickly answer Hera's prayer. One knows a God should be prolix, But ... think of all those different ******! " The recent violence against Coptics in Egypt, claimed by many to be the worst the country has seen in at least 300 years, adds a further layer of resonance and relevance to this "Zeus gets Hera on her back But finds that she has lost the knack. Extenuated by excesses She is unable, she confesses. Nothing daunted Zeus, who wise is Tries a dozen good disguises. Eagle, ram, and bull and bear Quickly answer Hera's prayer. One knows a God should be prolix, But ... think of all those different ******! " The recent violence against Coptics in Egypt, claimed by many to be the worst the country has seen in at least 300 years, adds a further layer of resonance and relevance to this extraordinary novel (see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...# for an overview of events last year in particular). "Layering" is an appropriate term for Durrell's technique – in an effort to step outside the linear nature of storytelling he has created a series of re-tellings which work upon each other, re-write each other. His pacing of "reveals" is pitch-perfect and, times, genuinely thrilling. Layering also occurs when one thinks of the literary techniques on display – the first novel in the quartet is very much of the turn-of-the-century style, modernist, traditionally told, full of rather naïve exoticisation and riffs on love. But as soon as we move onward, as soon as our perspective shifts, the techniques shift too. Hints of the post-modern and the post-colonial shimmer to the surface, one realises that the quartet as a whole is something very much greater than the sum of its parts. Alexandria at the end of the Empire is a city too of many layers. Layers of history, religion, politics, class and sex, all of which are brought expertly in to play. Criticisms? Well, Durrell does at times allow his language to run away from him and become what can only be termed "purple" or "florid" – However, as this is primarily the case in the first novel, which we learn is written by one of the characters, it can, perhaps, be excused. There is, at times, much that a follower of Said would criticise though, once again, for a novel set in the 1930's and written in the 1950-60's, much can be excused. Finally there is far too much gender essentialism for my queered sensibilities - lots of that "Woman is X" "Man is D" rubbish, which all sounds very lovely and poetic, but means precisely bugger all… Nevertheless, I suppose the simplest thing to say about this book is that my reading of it was a pleasure from beginning to end. It is a bona-fide masterpiece in the old-style and often breathtakingly well written.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    While I was reading Les Trois Mousquetaires last week, I wondered a couple of times if it had served as partial inspiration for The Alexandria Quartet. One of the cleverest things about the Dumas novel is the way he reinterprets early 17th century French history as really being about the romantic lives of Anne of Austria, on the large scene, and D'Artagnan, on the small one - a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Basil the Great Mouse Detective deal. Here, Durrell takes the idea a step further. The first While I was reading Les Trois Mousquetaires last week, I wondered a couple of times if it had served as partial inspiration for The Alexandria Quartet. One of the cleverest things about the Dumas novel is the way he reinterprets early 17th century French history as really being about the romantic lives of Anne of Austria, on the large scene, and D'Artagnan, on the small one - a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Basil the Great Mouse Detective deal. Here, Durrell takes the idea a step further. The first three novels give interlocking views of the same story. In Justine, we have an account of a complex love affair from the point of view of one of the people involved. The second novel, Balthazar, gives a different, external perspective on the same affair; suddenly, a number of things which previously didn't quite make sense come into perspective. In Mountolive, we get a third take: the whole thing was really about a messy political intrigue. And the last book is a sequel to all three. In contrast to Dumas, Durrell doesn't say that any of the versions is the "true" one. I wondered too if Jan Kjærstad was in his turn inspired by Durrell when he composed the Jonas Wergeland trilogy - again, we have the same events shown from three complementary perspectives. Though I noticed no overt reference to Durrell, and Kjærstad usually likes to give you a hint or two.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Finished "Justine" -- the first novel. The language is the star, hypnotic, insightful, poetic, abstracted, stupefying, sublime, ridiculously overwritten 73% of the time (with two similes packed into a metaphorical sentence etc). Struck me as exactly the sort of supreme Euro literary tradition that Knausgaard wanted to throw off. Clear characters, although they all seem caught in the Alexandrine amber of the language. Sexy, subtly sensationalist (not much happens except for really dramatic stuff Finished "Justine" -- the first novel. The language is the star, hypnotic, insightful, poetic, abstracted, stupefying, sublime, ridiculously overwritten 73% of the time (with two similes packed into a metaphorical sentence etc). Struck me as exactly the sort of supreme Euro literary tradition that Knausgaard wanted to throw off. Clear characters, although they all seem caught in the Alexandrine amber of the language. Sexy, subtly sensationalist (not much happens except for really dramatic stuff in the past and present), often soporific, but always worth slow, careful reading. Will read "Balthazar," the second novel, later this summer -- need to read something a little lighter now, something in which every image is not so modified and significant.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lea

    I received The Alexandria Quartet as a Christmas gift from a dear person, and I was in the mood for reading series. Although I haven’t had much time for reading, this books had a hypnotic quality to them that sucked me in deep in the Durrell’s world, city of Alexandria. There are so many great quotes from this books that I not going to quote anything, because I can’t decide on one of just a few. The writing was magical, poetic, mystical, deep, talking about core and the essence of humans, often I received The Alexandria Quartet as a Christmas gift from a dear person, and I was in the mood for reading series. Although I haven’t had much time for reading, this books had a hypnotic quality to them that sucked me in deep in the Durrell’s world, city of Alexandria. There are so many great quotes from this books that I not going to quote anything, because I can’t decide on one of just a few. The writing was magical, poetic, mystical, deep, talking about core and the essence of humans, often saying thing that are ignored and not talked about. It was painfully honest and written in original style that got me lost in abyss of human sexuality, subconscious places and seen and unseen realms of relationships. You can perceive city of Alexandria as hell and as whole earth and characters are not defined and fixed, their faces constantly change thought out the course of narrative, and through them you can see struggles, flaws and dark places of each and every one of us. Books take you on a different stream of consciousness than your own, and if you are willing to dig deep enough they are taking you on a journey of discovery of things that you never had the courage to unravel about yourself. This is almost like a manifest of philosophy of introspection. What fascinated me the most is constant change in perspective that really highlighted the subjective outlook of one person, overall relativity of the truth and complexity of human character. The protagonists seem renewed over and over again, and were deeply layered, often going in the unexpected directions, not afraid to live as they want and take risks, even at the cost of being misunderstood or hated by other people. Durrell had the courage to explore most of the taboo themes of society and moral wrongs, while not be subjective or judgemental, and not injecting his own moral standings. He brings the reader in the state were he doesn’t feel like he can, will or even want to judge any of characters behaviour, even when they’re engaging in adultery, incest, suicide and other ‘sins’ condemned by society and religion. He perfectly showed the deepness of decadence of human spirit and civilization, in the same time not giving it too much of importance in the great scheme of one’s life story and history of humanity, enlightening that the deep reasons for one’s actions are far more significant that the action itself, and behind one’s moral flaws lies the story worth telling and understanding, unravelling it’s layers, time and times again, from changing perspectives. There is so little that we know about ourselves and others, and Durrell perfectly pointed the lavishness of his characters despite their brokenness.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David Katzman

    Well. This was far from being "among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century" as claimed by the so-called Modern Library (whoever they are). It was unique, challenging and bizarre as well as, at times, inconsistent (dare I say flawed?). And yet somehow in the flaws is a level of honesty not found in so many books that smoothly portray "reality" with details intended to seduce the reader into believing. That trickery of perception. Here's how it went for me: beautiful, Well. This was far from being "among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century" as claimed by the so-called Modern Library (whoever they are). It was unique, challenging and bizarre as well as, at times, inconsistent (dare I say flawed?). And yet somehow in the flaws is a level of honesty not found in so many books that smoothly portray "reality" with details intended to seduce the reader into believing. That trickery of perception. Here's how it went for me: beautiful, poetic writing...followed by casual racism...then brilliant artistic insights...then ugly amoral behavior...then cultural revelations...then awkward construction...then imaginative atmospheric metaphors capturing a sense of place and time...then postmodern literary devices....etc etc. This book is such an odd duck that it certainly does achieve something quite unique in English literature, I do agree with that. I can almost compare it, in a way, to Infinite Jest, not in content or style but in the innate inconsistency that defies categorization. The awkwardness at times felt as though the author was "showing his work," (and a writer is the main character). So is it "post modern" or is it not? It's ambiguous, sprawling, beastly, occasionally boring. It's not one thing. It's four books that meander through a continuous storyline in diverse ways. One of the oddities is the perspective changes. Book One, Justine, is told from the first person perspective of the writer Darley. Book Two, Balthazar is also told by Darley, however it completely alters the understanding we have about the characters from Book One. It straddles this odd border between metafiction and fiction because it features a partial retelling of the events from Book One. I would subtitle it, "The Misperceptions of Darley." The premise is that Darley gave the manuscript of Book One (it's implied but never quite stated that Durrell's actual Book One is Darley's manuscript) to this other character Balthazar, who then "corrects" all of Darley's misperceptions. Much like an editor might use Comments in Microsoft Word to make revisionary suggestions to an authors draft. Book Two reveals that there was so much behind the scenes that Darley didn't understand, it completely repositions (a new perspective), the characters from Book One. One of the repeated themes of the book is that we really never understand each other (what makes up a "self" is highly questionable as well), and over and over in the series, new facets of individuals and motives and previously unrevealed actions causes us to reevaluate the characters many times over. Couple that with changes that happen to them over time, it highly destabilizes the concept of "identity." Book Three, Mountolive, throws another wrench into the consistency of the story in that it is told from a third person perspective, a close god's-eye view from inside some of the characters featured in Books One and Two. This was a strange shift that was not particularly justified by Durrell and presents details that Darley never could have known (authorial invention?). One might hypothesize that it represents a book "written by Darley," as if the character wrote Book 3...however, this premise is again never directly stated, so I found the shift awkward. The fourth book, Clea, returns us to Darley's first person perspective much as in Books One and Two. Again, new aspects to the characters are revealed or have evolved. We never really knew them, and they are constantly in a state of flux, just as quantum particles and the universe are. Most impressive throughout The Alexandria Quartet is the nearly baroque poetic language. Durrell is quite masterful and insightful when he allows his characters to be. There are, in fact, TWO writers as characters in the book and Durrell manages to make them both talented, artistic and eloquent and yet utterly distinct. Very skillful, subtle writing. The racism is absolutely disturbing, without question. It would seem likely that, being true to British expats living in Egypt before and just after World War II, the characters are going to be infused with racialist views. But the casual use of racist epithets to describe black music and black musicians is disturbing, not to mention the exotic portrayal of Egyptians. Exoticism in its own way is something that betrays a level of racism that has been written about by various cultural critics; it portrays races as "other" and incomprehensible. If Durrell were weaving this into his story for a thematic reason, giving him the benefit of intentionality, it would likely be to point out that we are ALL exotic and incomprehensible to each other. Durrell certainly never sugarcoats the brutality or prejudice of his characters and makes no obvious judgement upon them. He presents the occurrences rather neutrally or amorally. This is dicey indeed. Does it matter what he the author thought? Or is it more important how we now reflect on this series published in the late 1950s? It's jarring to read such casually used language, as if it's just an everyday thing. Yet I think it was rather valuable, in an odd way, because it put me in the mindset of how Trump spoke about immigrants "infesting" this country or, like Roseann Barr tossing off her racist tweets. This is casual conversation for many Americans. It might have been a very small aspect of this book to Durrell, but it had a big effect on me as a reader today. Racist beliefs are just an assumed, automatic and off-hand aspect of the worldview of so many individuals that changing it will require a lot of significant social change. Of course right now, we are going in the opposite direction with the mainstreaming of racism. Without a doubt, this is an unusual and powerful work but not one I can particularly recommend. I would think those with patience for the unfolding of a story who appreciate off-kilter experimental works that live in an undefinable quantum state of wtf...then yes, perhaps this is for you. Strangely enough, I've heard this described by some as a "romance." It seemed more an anti-romance to me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    I realized then the truth about all love: that it is an absolute which takes all or forfeits all. The other feelings, compassion, tenderness and so on, exist only on the periphery and belong on the constructions of society and habit. My gratitude for M.J. Nicholls remains at the fore of this celebration. It wasn't he that steered me to this massive work. I am honestly unable to gather any of MJNs inferences in the direction of Durrell. It was more Nicholls' esprit, that laudable expansion on what I realized then the truth about all love: that it is an absolute which takes all or forfeits all. The other feelings, compassion, tenderness and so on, exist only on the periphery and belong on the constructions of society and habit. My gratitude for M.J. Nicholls remains at the fore of this celebration. It wasn't he that steered me to this massive work. I am honestly unable to gather any of MJNs inferences in the direction of Durrell. It was more Nicholls' esprit, that laudable expansion on what we talk about when we review books on GR. Nietzsche started this ball rolling, waxing loudly that there are not facts, but only interpretations. This leads us gleaming into the vortex of Durrell's 4D (apologies to Sherman and Peabody) tetralogy, one name, one face, one book for each dimension in that dotty quantum way. We begin at the End. The End, mind you, only of an Affair. There is something greasy and squeamish about this, much like Greene's masterpiece. Bendrix and Darley deserve each other, but before one can Blitz the Casbah, the threads separate and the emphasis chugs along at a different angle, involving other souls. Some dead, others despairing. There is a dank musk of incest here. This theme finds a bizarre counterpoint throughout. The novel Balthazar takes the premise of Justine -- foreigners behaving badly in the ancient city -- and extrapolates it with an unknown resonance. A History worthy of Foucault is forming midway through the second novel. Darley/Durrell is establishing a "great interlinear" a hypertext with contradicting testimony interspersed in his own account. Montolive is my favorite of the set and a likely zenith for Durrell's ambition. The title character is a diplomat whose own troubled passion vibrates the relations of all the other characters, even as War looms on the horizon. The poems of Cavafy haunt the crackling descriptions of the feverish Egypt of the 1930s. This is a lost city buried under Islamic nationalism and a modern legacy of defeat and corruption. The Quartet clambers to halt in Clea, by far the weakest novel of the series. The necessary throes of Darley and Clea felt so contrived that I have trouble even thinking calmly about it now. What does remain placid is my memories of the book as object. I bought a hardcovered boxed set of the Quartet 20 years ago and attempted several times to find purchase in its opening pages. This was to avail. Last fall while hobbling about on a sore knee in Berlin, I went with my wife to an English Language second hand book shop just off of Karl Marx Allee. It is more pathetic than romantic to see an American limping about abroad with his hands full of snobby novels. Thus I am guilty.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Even though it took me ages to finish this massive read, the eloquence and the elegancy of the prose blew me away. I absolutely adored the fact that the plot was non linear,at least during the first 3 books, whilst the landscape descriptions were mesmerizing and haunting. This is definitely an unparallel piece of art, full of philosophical reflections and beautifully written passages about love. Yes, one day I found myself writing down with trembling fingers the four words (four letters! four Even though it took me ages to finish this massive read, the eloquence and the elegancy of the prose blew me away. I absolutely adored the fact that the plot was non linear,at least during the first 3 books, whilst the landscape descriptions were mesmerizing and haunting. This is definitely an unparallel piece of art, full of philosophical reflections and beautifully written passages about love. Yes, one day I found myself writing down with trembling fingers the four words (four letters! four faces!) with which every story-teller since the world began has staked his slender claim to the attention of his fellow-men. Words which presage simply the old story of an artist coming of age. I wrote: "Once upon a time…." And I felt as if the whole universe had given me a nudge!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scribble Orca

    Being a serial book-adulterer I have fallen into and wandered out of love with an amoral number of books - but I remain forever in thrall to the Alexandria Quartet. Of course, I may change my mind in ten years. Let's just wait and see.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Star Rating I read "Justine" many years ago and have just read the whole "Quartet". I've reviewed the individual works separately at the links below. I rated "Mountolive" five stars and the others four. I rated "Mountolive" higher, because of the roundabout journey it took me on. I've rated the "Quartet" as a whole five stars. My rationale is that the sum is greater than its parts (which could almost be one of its themes). However, there is a good chance that I will some day increase the four star Star Rating I read "Justine" many years ago and have just read the whole "Quartet". I've reviewed the individual works separately at the links below. I rated "Mountolive" five stars and the others four. I rated "Mountolive" higher, because of the roundabout journey it took me on. I've rated the "Quartet" as a whole five stars. My rationale is that the sum is greater than its parts (which could almost be one of its themes). However, there is a good chance that I will some day increase the four star ratings to five. Durrell deserves to be considered in the same company as Proust for both subject matter and prose. REVIEWS OF INDIVIDUAL VOLUMES: "Justine" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... "Balthazar" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... "Mountolive" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... "Clea" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    Writing a review of something I read more than thirty years ago is difficult but I suspect reviewing Durrell's Quartet is difficult at any time. I remember being confused by much of it but feeling compelled to read the four separate novels nonetheless. What remains in my memory today is the heady atmosphere of heat, intrigue, Cadafy's poetry and the mysterious city of Alexandria which Durrell captured in his own idiosyncratic way. The characters and their doings are long forgotten. I don't think Writing a review of something I read more than thirty years ago is difficult but I suspect reviewing Durrell's Quartet is difficult at any time. I remember being confused by much of it but feeling compelled to read the four separate novels nonetheless. What remains in my memory today is the heady atmosphere of heat, intrigue, Cadafy's poetry and the mysterious city of Alexandria which Durrell captured in his own idiosyncratic way. The characters and their doings are long forgotten. I don't think I would ever reread this. If I wanted to read something about Egypt, I think I'd go for a book by an Egyptian author. Durrell was so clearly under the spell of the country that the fiction he modeled from his life there is too obscure and unlikely for me to have the patience to read it now. How we change...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Probably one of the most spectacular things I've read in a long time. The writing is exquisite: ornate and sweeping. The characters are cast from all corners of Egyptian society, bringing high and low together in a sensuous jumble. The shifting narrative means that as you go through the series you get more and more perspective on the characters and essential plot points. Initial impressions are upended and all wrong. More and more illusions are shattered and you're left with something painful, Probably one of the most spectacular things I've read in a long time. The writing is exquisite: ornate and sweeping. The characters are cast from all corners of Egyptian society, bringing high and low together in a sensuous jumble. The shifting narrative means that as you go through the series you get more and more perspective on the characters and essential plot points. Initial impressions are upended and all wrong. More and more illusions are shattered and you're left with something painful, but utterly real. Only few quotes from Clea. KNH broke and lost most of my highlights :( "Words are the mirrors of our discontents merely; they contain all the huge unhatched eggs of the world's sorrows." "Eloquent and silent water-ballets which allowed us to correspond only by smile and gesture." "We carry in ourselves the biological trophies they bequeathed us by their failure to use up life--alignment of an eye, responsive curve of a nose; or in still more fugitive forms like someone's dead laugh, or a dimple which excites a long-buried smile." "Art is not art unless it threatens your very existence. Could you repeat that, please, more slowly?"

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Vibber

    I've just reread the Quartet after a forty year interval during which I've enjoyed hundreds of books, and in recent years, written fiction of my own. I was once overwhelmed by Durrell’s descriptive power and humbled by his explosive creativity. As I returned to exotic Alexandria, I wondered if I would once again be transfixed by the same kaleidoscope of words that had once rotated my view of love and life. Four volumes later the answer is YES. Although my understandings have evolved, these books I've just reread the Quartet after a forty year interval during which I've enjoyed hundreds of books, and in recent years, written fiction of my own. I was once overwhelmed by Durrell’s descriptive power and humbled by his explosive creativity. As I returned to exotic Alexandria, I wondered if I would once again be transfixed by the same kaleidoscope of words that had once rotated my view of love and life. Four volumes later the answer is YES. Although my understandings have evolved, these books remain one of my few benchmarks for judging a masterpiece.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    The most beautifully written books I have ever read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    AC

    Nov. 2019: This book deserved and required a second reading — on which the threads could be more fully appreciated and understood. The book is too weird for a single reading. The peculiar genius — and the somewhat strange and disappointing limitations — of Durrell were likewise thrown into relief. A very strange modernist, yet rococo meditation on life and the decadence of modern civilization. Certainly over-ripe. Durrell lived a generation or two too late, perhaps. My sense is that Durrell is a Nov. 2019: This book deserved and required a second reading — on which the threads could be more fully appreciated and understood. The book is too weird for a single reading. The peculiar genius — and the somewhat strange and disappointing limitations — of Durrell were likewise thrown into relief. A very strange modernist, yet rococo meditation on life and the decadence of modern civilization. Certainly over-ripe. Durrell lived a generation or two too late, perhaps. My sense is that Durrell is a second-order writer who surpassed himself in (parts of) the Alexandria Quartet. Original review from 2013 — when I had no idea what I was talking about or of what I had just read: A magnificent work, tightly constructed... it is impossible to consider these four volumes independently. Though published separately, they form a whole. I had thought about reading this since I was 20, when I had read what Henry Miller had to say about Durrell. Of course, I would not have understood, nor been able to read this at that age. The volume has flaws, to be sure... it is not easy to read. There are artifices in the plot. The language is often bizarre... and deliberately artificial... and yet..., and yet...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Karaiskos

    I usually read very slowly those books that I don't like but for some reason I think I should finish them. In this book, or rather in these four books, it was just the opposite, I loved what I was reading, so much I enjoyed the unique way of writing that I tried to read them only under the most ideal conditions, in the indolent summer noons, accompanied by the appropriate music of the east, at a pace that maximizes this enjoyment. I couldn't avoid it, Lawrence Durrell's writing really captivated I usually read very slowly those books that I don't like but for some reason I think I should finish them. In this book, or rather in these four books, it was just the opposite, I loved what I was reading, so much I enjoyed the unique way of writing that I tried to read them only under the most ideal conditions, in the indolent summer noons, accompanied by the appropriate music of the east, at a pace that maximizes this enjoyment. I couldn't avoid it, Lawrence Durrell's writing really captivated me from the first words of the first book, and that fascination lasted until the end. It's so beautiful, so poetic, so well-structured, so rich, it has such an ability to create images and convey thoughts and feelings that I really can't describe the wonderful feeling it created for me. With it as a guide we stroll through the wonderful city of Alexandria, live the sensuality of the orient at the pace dictated by the hot sun of Egypt, we see this mix of cultures represented by its old and new inhabitants coming from Europe and in the end we are watching the important world developments that could not but affect a city that has always enjoyed the mysterious. As for the story the author tells us, it may not matter so much, we do not follow it in any logical order but in a confused and indefinable way, going from beginning to end and at various stages of the story almost by accident, following the author's thoughts. So we watch the various characters in different episodes of their lives, in their big and small moments, in their thoughts and emotions, in everything that reveals how they experience with the body and soul what the city of Alexandria offers them. All of these characters have something unique and special, and this combination of their stories creates a result that sums up the charm of that time, as the author perceived it. Four wonderful books that offer a particularly beautiful literary journey that my poor abilities are probably not enough to describe in a way that suits it. Perhaps in some of my next visits to this unique work, I can add something more, until then all I can say is that it is a collection of books that must be read by all who enjoy the true essence of literature. Συνήθως διαβάζω με πολύ αργούς ρυθμούς εκείνα τα βιβλία που δεν μου αρέσουν αλλά για κάποιο λόγο θεωρώ ότι πρέπει να τα τελειώσω. Σε αυτό το βιβλίο, ή μάλλον σε αυτά τα τέσσερα βιβλία, έγινε το ακριβώς αντίθετο, μου άρεσε τόσο πολύ αυτό που διάβαζα, απολάμβανα τόσο πολύ τον μοναδικό τρόπο γραφής που προσπαθούσα το διάβασμά τους να γίνεται μόνο κάτω από τις ιδανικότερες συνθήκες, σε νωχελικά καλοκαιρινά μεσημέρια, με τη συνοδεία κατάλληλης μουσικής της ανατολής, με έναν ρυθμό που μεγιστοποιεί αυτή την απόλαυση. Δεν μπορούσα να το αποφύγω αυτό, η γραφή του Lawrence Durrell πραγματικά με μάγεψε από τις πρώτες λέξεις του πρώτου βιβλίου και αυτή η μαγεία κράτησε μέχρι το τέλος. Είναι τόσο όμορφη, τόσο ποιητική, τόσο καλά δομημένη, τόσο πλούσια, έχει τέτοια δυνατότητα να δημιουργεί εικόνες και να μεταδίδει σκέψεις και συναισθήματα που πραγματικά δεν μπορώ να περιγράψω αυτή την υπέροχη αίσθηση που μου δημιούργησε. Με αυτήν ως οδηγό περιπλανόμαστε στην υπέροχη πόλη της Αλεξάνδρειας, ζούμε τον αισθησιασμό της ανατολής με το ρυθμό που επιβάλλει ο καυτός ήλιος της Αιγύπτου, βλέπουμε αυτή τη σύνθεση των πολιτισμών που εκπροσωπούνται από τους παλιούς και τους νέους κατοίκους της που έρχονται από την Ευρώπη και στο τέλος παρακολουθούμε τις σημαντικές εξελίξεις που δεν μπορούσαν να μην επηρεάσουν μία πόλη που πάντα απολάμβανε το μυστηριώδες. Όσο για την ιστορία που μας αφηγείται ο συγγραφέας, ίσως δεν έχει και τόσο μεγάλη σημασία, δεν την παρακολουθούμε εξάλλου με κάποια λογική σειρά αλλά με έναν τρόπο μπερδεμένο και ακαθόριστο, πηγαίνοντας από την αρχή στο τέλος και στα διάφορα στάδια της ιστορίας σχεδόν τυχαία, ακολουθώντας τις σκέψεις του συγγραφέα. Έτσι παρακολουθούμε τους διάφορους χαρακτήρες σε διάφορα επεισόδια της ζωής τους, σε μικρές και μεγάλες στιγμές τους, στις σκέψεις και τα συναισθήματά τους, σε όλα αυτά που αποκαλύπτουν πώς βιώνουν με το σώμα και την ψυχή αυτά που τους προσφέρει η πόλη της Αλεξάνδρειας. Όλοι αυτοί οι χαρακτήρες έχουν κάτι το μοναδικό και ιδιαίτερο και αυτή η σύνθεση των ιστοριών τους δημιουργεί ένα αποτέλεσμα που συνοψίζει τη γοητεία εκείνης της εποχής, όπως την αντιλαμβάνονταν ο συγγραφέας. Τέσσερα υπέροχα βιβλία που προσφέρουν ένα ιδιαίτερα όμορφο λογοτεχνικό ταξίδι που οι φτωχές μου ικανότητες μάλλον δεν επαρκούν για να το περιγράψω με έναν τρόπο που του αρμόζει. Ίσως σε κάποιες από τις επόμενες μου επισκέψεις σε αυτό το μοναδικό έργο μπορέσω να προσθέσω κάτι περισσότερο, μέχρι τότε το μόνο που μπορώ να πω είναι ότι είναι μία συλλογή βιβλίων που πρέπει να διαβαστεί από όλους όσους απολαμβάνουν την ουσία της λογοτεχνίας.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Alexandria between the wars. I don't think there will ever be a more sensual, lyrical, painterly writer than Durrell, nor a more exquisitely delineated labyrinthine, incestuous, brilliant, tangled society than that of his Alexandria, Egypt. A single page contains more beauty than is in the entire New York Times Bestseller list combined. If I could have written any book, I think it would have been these four interwoven masterpieces.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    Reading post modern novels can make it hard returning to modernist works. This tetralogy is magnificent. The story of love and obsession is conveyed through the elaborate descriptive writing about the city Alexandria. Rich, complex and compelling characters add texture and tone to an already vivid and hallucinogenic portrayal of the cityscape and are testament to Lawrence Durrell's hypnotic and mesmerising prose style.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    The number of speared, maimed and otherwise mutilated women in the Alexandria Quartet should not surprise anyone who notices that each of the four books begin with a quote from the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Fortunately most readers will be too overwhelmed by the sea of purple prose to notice. Durrell's four part novel is depraved but rollicking great fun. Quand j'étais au premier cycle à une université anglo-saxonne pendant les années soixante-dix on considérait "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" The number of speared, maimed and otherwise mutilated women in the Alexandria Quartet should not surprise anyone who notices that each of the four books begin with a quote from the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Fortunately most readers will be too overwhelmed by the sea of purple prose to notice. Durrell's four part novel is depraved but rollicking great fun. Quand j'étais au premier cycle à une université anglo-saxonne pendant les années soixante-dix on considérait "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" comme étant une des plus grandes œuvres sinon la plus grande de la littérature anglaise du vingtième siècle. Sa cote s'est beaucoup baissée depuis probablement parce que l'on avait constaté que son manque de rectitude politique. "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est profondément phallocrate, impérialiste, conservatrice et islamophobe. Malgré tout, c'est un témoignage très important de son époque. "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" présente quatre grand thèmes: 1. Dieu a crée le monde par accident ce qui est une doctrine gnostique 2. le suprême bien c'est la jouissance 3. il est impossible de percevoir la réalité ambiante en entier 4. l'abandon des chrétiens et juifs au moyen orient par la Grande Bretagne et la France après la deuxième grande guerre mondiale est une honte énorme Écrit immédiatement après la crise de Suez de 1956, "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est un thriller qui relate l'histoire d'un complot Copte qui fournit des armes aux rebelles juifs de la Palestine. Les événements se déroulent essentiellement entre 1930 et 1945. Les protagonistes sont en majeur partie des artistes bohémiennes, des coptes riches, et des diplomates britanniques. Un nombre important des personnages sont aussi des cabalistes et des gnostiques. La découverte près de Louxor en 1945 de la Bibliothèque de Nag Hammadi (un ensemble des documents gnostiques du IVe siècle) a suscité chez Durrell un fort intérêt pour le Gnosticisme. Le mélange de la politique et de la religion ésotérique dans "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est tout à fait hallucinante. Tôt ou tard le lecteur tombe sous le charme intoxicant de l'œuvre. En lisant les autres critiques sur GR, j'ai l'impression que la plupart des lecteurs préfèrent ne pas voir le leitmotiv sadique du "Quatuor" qui est néanmoins très fort. Durrell, comme Sade, semble croire que le bonheur humain exige que la femme réponde aux désirs de l'homme et qu'elle participe sans réserves dans ses fétichismes sexuels. Aux yeux de Durrell, la vocation naturelle des femmes n'est pas la maternité; c'est de plaire aux hommes. Avec tant d'accouplements, les accidents de parcours sont inévitables; c'est-à-dire, il y a des enfants qui naissent. Malheureusement, Durrell ne sait pas comment intégrer des personnages qui sont des enfants dans ses intrigues. Ses enfants font des apparences de temps en autre mais Durrell finit toujours par les supprimer avec des maladies ou avec des accidents. Clea qui est le personnage féminin le plus sage du "Quatuor" choisit d'avorter ce qui est la décision la plus raisonnable dans le monde pervers de Durrell. Je suis en fin de compte très mal à l'aise avec la manière dont Durrell voit l'amour et la vie humaine. Un aspect du "Quatuor" que j'ai beacoup du mal à comprendre c'est le manque d'intérêt chez les personnages pour la deuxième grande mondiale. Ils trouvent seulement que la guerre dérange leurs routines. Même quand l'armée allemande est à El Alamein à cent-dix kilomètres à l'ouest d'Alexandrie, la guerre leur semble être indifférente. L'explication la plus probable est que Durrell croyait que la deuxième grande guerre étaient essentiellement une guerre européenne qui a débordé ses frontières pour court période et n'a jamais occupé une place important dans la vie des ses personnages. Pourtant je ne peux pas en être certain. L'attitude des personnages du "Quatuor" vis-à-vis de la deuxième grande mondiale demeure pour moi un énigme. Il faut reconnaitre cependant que c'est un livre bourré d'énigmes. C'est à lire pour tous ceux qui s'intéressent à l'histoire du moyen orient au vingtième siècle.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    “The oranges were more plentiful than usual that year. They glowed in their arbors of burnished green leaf like lanterns flickering up there among the sunny woods.” These are the first two sentences in the last volume (Clea) of The Alexandria Quartet. It has to be in the top ten or top five greatest books I have ever read. I knew one day I would have to read it but I had no idea what an amazing read it would be. At first, one almost thinks that Durrell is just showing off: great sentences “The oranges were more plentiful than usual that year. They glowed in their arbors of burnished green leaf like lanterns flickering up there among the sunny woods.” These are the first two sentences in the last volume (Clea) of The Alexandria Quartet. It has to be in the top ten or top five greatest books I have ever read. I knew one day I would have to read it but I had no idea what an amazing read it would be. At first, one almost thinks that Durrell is just showing off: great sentences continually evolving and morphing into other great sentences; then, before you get to the end of the first volume, Justine, one realizes that this incredible feat of magical writing must have come naturally for Durrell. His words, the poetry of his words, are comparable to Shakespeare—deeply poignant, incredibly beautiful and very rewarding. At times, it is simply breathtaking (as when he compares dying—ripped apart by a bullwhip—bats to pieces of black umbrella in the wind). This is something beyond a masterpiece; it almost lives and breathes on its own; pulsating with life, love, death and the utterly romantic imagery of Alexandria, Egypt (a place I had never heard of before but has captured my fancy and now I long to go there to haunt the same streets that Durrell did long ago), just before the start of World World II. It belongs in every serious reader’s library. One can buy it as one complete book or in four separate volumes. I read one book at a time over a two month period with small breaks in between reading other books; and this system worked well for me because it allowed time for each story to resonate and to balance it with lighter reading which made getting through Durrell’s epic easier (it is dense at times but the rewards of wading through it are immeasurable). The Alexandria Quartet really is the world in 1100 beautifully written pages. There’s a reason why great books endure; and as the days and years go by, there will be new lucky readers who will discover Mr. Durrell's exotic vision of Alexandria, Egypt and they will want to carry the torch, in honor of this great writer, to convince others—any serious reader—to join the club and discover (like some beautiful terrain under a sumptuous rainbow) this incredibly poetic piece of literature filled with amazing and unforgettable characters.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say. And beauty of a word is in the eye of the reader and beauty of a thought is in the mind of the thinker. The Alexandria Quartet is a very beautiful book in all the aspects. And it is written in magical language. “Science is the poetry of the intellect and poetry the science of the heart's affections.” Relativity rules. All the events are relative and their interpretation depends on the vantage point of a beholder.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Caterina

    Stratis Tsirkas did it better.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sean Gainford

    What is he talking about? 'But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them. The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion. You would never mistake it for a happy place. The symbolic lovers of the free Hellenic world are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body - for it has outstripped the body [...:] Alexandria What is he talking about? 'But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them. The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion. You would never mistake it for a happy place. The symbolic lovers of the free Hellenic world are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body - for it has outstripped the body [...:] Alexandria was the great winepress of love; those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets - I mean all who have bee deeply wounded in the sex.' 'Empty cadences of sea-water licking its own wounds, sulking along the mouths of the delta, boiling upon those deserted beaches - empty, forever empty under the gulls: white scribble on the grey, munched by clouds. If there are ever sails here they die before the land shadows them. Wreckage washed up on the pediments of islands, the last crust, eroded by the weather, stuck in the blue maw of water ... gone!' 'Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold - the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to invade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential - the imagination.' 'Days became simply the spaces between dreams, spaces between the shifting floors of time, of acting, of living out the topical ... a tide of meaningless affairs nosing along the dead level of things, entering no climate, leading us nowhere, demanding of us nothing save the impossible - that we should be. Justine would say that we had been trapped in the projection of a will too powerful and too deliberate to be human - the gravitational field which Alexandria threw down about those it had chosen as its exemplars ...' This book goes on and on like this. Supposedly this Lawrence Durrell fellow was not a very good poet. So it seems like he wrote a novel instead, however this was only a disguise, for he has infiltrated his bad poetry into his novel. Then readers would be tricked, thinking they were reading a novel but really they were just reading his bad poetry again. I'm not fooled though. I see his bad poetry, and now see his bad prose. I refuse to read more then twenty pages of this book, and even that was too much. A pretentious piece of work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Reese

    There are some stories to which one should return at intervals. I got my first taste of Durrell when I was twenty or so: I'd just described my view of the Manhattan skyline at night, and my (older, better-read) paramour (who may have had ulterior motives) said, "My God, you sound just like Durrell." I dove in and these books changed me. Just as our reflections on still water bear remarkable fidelity to us but break apart when the water roils, the Quartet reveals that what we know (or think we There are some stories to which one should return at intervals. I got my first taste of Durrell when I was twenty or so: I'd just described my view of the Manhattan skyline at night, and my (older, better-read) paramour (who may have had ulterior motives) said, "My God, you sound just like Durrell." I dove in and these books changed me. Just as our reflections on still water bear remarkable fidelity to us but break apart when the water roils, the Quartet reveals that what we know (or think we love) and love (or think we know) is quite subjective. Taking the Quartet as a single work: Part spy novel, part doomed romance, part Bildungsroman -- though the unravelling of your own story is one hell of a way to grow -- part Grail quest for the Truth (if one truth exists), part literary treatment on relativity, and paean to Alexandria...if I get one packing crate of books to take with me to the desert island, the Quartet makes the cut.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marius Hancu

    Multiple, very poetical at times, iterations on the relationships of a tight-knit group of people, the way they use/abuse and exploit each other. Going at it from multiple POVs. Multiple cameras in action. Also, dissecting the inter-community, inter-cultural relationships at the time, in Alexandria. Revealing the truth, if there's one:-), gradually, onion-style. In that dismissal of the absolute, very post-modernist. I took a break after "Justine." "Balthazar" seems easier this time around, and Multiple, very poetical at times, iterations on the relationships of a tight-knit group of people, the way they use/abuse and exploit each other. Going at it from multiple POVs. Multiple cameras in action. Also, dissecting the inter-community, inter-cultural relationships at the time, in Alexandria. Revealing the truth, if there's one:-), gradually, onion-style. In that dismissal of the absolute, very post-modernist. I took a break after "Justine." "Balthazar" seems easier this time around, and certainly the new take on some "truths" is exciting. It feels going deeper, to other layers. No, it's like a potent suggestion and drug for me, clearly a masterpiece in its genre. This potency and the iterations can lead to a feeling of surfeit. It did to me. It's the feeling that the air of the novel it's sufficient, but you must survive the immersion:-) The evocation of history of the city is also very strong, as is the mixture of languages. Easier than, say, Proust, in terms of pure sentence construction. Difficult for some readers, perhaps, in not being linear and being poetical. How poetical? Well: "And when night falls and the white city lights up the thousand candelabra of its parks and buildings, tunes in to the soft unearthly drum-music of Morocco or the Caucasus, it looks like some great crystal liner asleep there, anchored to the horn of Africa — her diamond and fire-opal reflections twisting downwards like polished bars into the oily harbour among the battleships. ... And when night falls and the white city lights up the thousand candelabra of its parks and buildings, tunes in to the soft unearthly drum-music of Morocco or the Caucasus, it looks like some great crystal liner asleep there, anchored to the horn of Africa — her diamond and fire-opal reflections twisting downwards like polished bars into the oily harbour among the battleships. ... Slowly the bluish spring moon climbs the houses, sliding up the minarets into the clicking palm-trees, and with it the city seems to uncurl like some hibernating animal dug out of its winter earth, to stretch and begin to drink in the music of the three-day festival." At such times, Durrell is not for the lover of short paragraphs:-) Also, please listen to this BBC broadcast on Durrell: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01phktg

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    My high rating may be rank nostalgia. In keeping with the old cliché, I didn't read this book when I discovered it in my callow youth – I devoured it like a gnostic eucharist. Set in Alexandria during the last days of decadent European glory, Durrell's ensemble of conflicted characters etch themselves upon the imagination. Durrell is guilty of over-writing everything; still the secret center holds. Connoisseurs may prefer his Avignon Quintet but I never made it past Monsieur. I left my heart in My high rating may be rank nostalgia. In keeping with the old cliché, I didn't read this book when I discovered it in my callow youth – I devoured it like a gnostic eucharist. Set in Alexandria during the last days of decadent European glory, Durrell's ensemble of conflicted characters etch themselves upon the imagination. Durrell is guilty of over-writing everything; still the secret center holds. Connoisseurs may prefer his Avignon Quintet but I never made it past Monsieur. I left my heart in Alexandria.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Tole

    A stunning tour de force of a book which is even better than the book I remember 30 years ago when I first read it. This is without doubt a meisterwerk in the canon of western literature and one which contributes immensely to the fabric of literature as well as just being a bloody good book and a great read. Durrell uses the four book style to construct a story through layers of time and differences of view and the depth and breadth of that view are quite stunning. Justine, the first book A stunning tour de force of a book which is even better than the book I remember 30 years ago when I first read it. This is without doubt a meisterwerk in the canon of western literature and one which contributes immensely to the fabric of literature as well as just being a bloody good book and a great read. Durrell uses the four book style to construct a story through layers of time and differences of view and the depth and breadth of that view are quite stunning. Justine, the first book concerns the affair between the eponymous heroine and the English language teacher and wannabe writer Darley and is an elucidation of desire and duplicity in which we begin to see the main characters shape themselves, and Alexandria become the background flavour to the complete work. The second and third books, Balthazar and Mountolive, are the real meat of the piece and present us with quite different challenging views of the action that was related to us through the agency of Darley's affair with Justine. Clea, the last book stands like an epilogue to the three books that have gone before. This is a masterwork in time, opinion, narrative and character. Everything changes through each of the books. What was incongruous and unexplained leaps into the foreground later. And through it all is the masterly taste, smell and faint sensual eroticism that Durrell brings to all four books and shows him as a major craftsman and writer. Read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Guy Cranswick

    This is bad writing dressed up as lamb. It's pompous and pseudo psychological nonsense is funny and grating. The long winded images and metaphors are a lesson in what not to do.

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