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The Alexandria Quartet

I remember I started to read Justine about ten years ago (i.e. about 1998), but I also remember quitting after something like ten pages. I don't remember why I didn't like it, but apparently my taste has changed since then. I like this kind of novel. With kind here I mean novels that cover more or less the same story from different perspectives.

In an introductory note to Balthazar Durrell writes:

Modern literature offers us no Unites, so I have turned to science and am trying to complete a four-decker novel whose form is based on the relativity proposition.

Three sides of space and one of time constitute the soup-mix recipe of a continuum. The four novels follow this pattern.

The three first parts, however, are to be deployed spatially (hence the use of "sibling" not "sequel") and are not linked in a serial form. They interlap, interweave, in a purely spatial relation. Time is stayed. The forth path alone will represent time and be a true sequel.

As far as I can remember Strangers and Brothers is the only other "series" of novels I have read with the same structure (i.e. parts not being sequels), and The Alexandria Quartet is the only one explicitly made like this. Strange, because it is a very interesting way to present something.

In Justine we are told a story about love and life in Alexandria shortly before the Second World War. The story is told in a rather high tempo, and not quite as good as the other three books, I think. To me, it all seemed a bit artificial and "made-up" — I found it hard to believe that people really would act and think as they do in Justine. The story is told by the teacher and writer Darley, as seen from his point-of-view. (Some profound-sounding things seem ta have been added only to make the reader think (or react), as "One always falls in love with the love-choice of the person one loves." What?)

Balthazar and Montolive have a lower tempo and are both easier to read. As mentioned above they present more or less the same story as Justine but you now understand that what you read there wasn't really what happened. More information is presented which throws light on almost all the odd things in Justine. Very good reading.

Clea is a sequel to all the other books, and explains things further. I was slightly disappointed as I was hoping for some epiphany (if that's the right word) when all the pieces fell in place, but that didn't happen. Substantial parts of Clea had very little to do with what happened in the "prequels". I really wanted to know what happened to Justine's child.

I learn from Wikipedia that Lawrence Durrell was influenced by Henry Miller, which doesn't surprise me one bit — even if Durrell is less explicit about the sex.

I use the codes [Y] for Yes, I have read this one and [N] for No, I haven't read it (yet).

Status   Title Year of pub.   Pages
[Y] Justine (1957) 257
[Y] Balthazar (1958) 247
[Y] Mountolive   (1958) 292
[Y] Clea (1959) 275

Peter Andrén, 2009-04-23

Copyright © 2009 Peter Andrén