Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Roy HAYES recommends ... Lawrence DURRELL's The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960)

Lawrence Durrell’s
The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960)

“HAVE YOU READ Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet? Just recently I re-read it, after a recess of some 40-plus years. It holds up brilliantly. Yes, there are holes in it, but what novel is without flaw? (“Novel: A work of fiction of at least one volume in length that has something wrong with it.”)

“Funny, really, that Alexandria was so brilliant, but everything else Durrell wrote was so very disappointing in comparison. Like Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s Raintree County (1948), Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere,” and Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe (1967), Alexandria seems to stand alone, and Durrell, for all his genius, is a bit of a one-hit wonder. Some of his other stuff is interesting, some of it boring as a wet sponge, but nothing else he wrote stands up to Alexandria for sheer pleasure or absolute astonishment.

“If you haven’t yet read it [the quartet], I strongly recommend that you hit the library [or bookstore] and check out all four volumes. And read them in the proper sequence. Although much has been made about its love-and-sex attributes, the fact is that Alexandria is a psychological thriller, a novel of political intrigue, a brilliant insight into the human heart (dozens of them), and is by turn terrifying (with bits of the occult that even a hardshell sceptic like me buys into) and falling-down hilarious. Not to mention, by the bye, that it’s filled with poetic passages that are to die for. In Durrell’s hands, [the city of] Alexandria itself becomes a vivid character. They’re riveting and illuminating—and entertaining as hell.”

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) was one of the most celebrated English novelists of the late 20th century. The Alexandria Quartet, which comprises four novels, Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960), is unquestionably his most admired work, one he described as “an investigation of modern love.” It explores the sexual and political intrigues of a group of expatriates in Egypt before and during World War II.

Roy Hayes is the author of The Hungarian Game (1973). He lives in Henderson, Nevada, U.S.


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