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Melinda Rushby (Thurleigh, Bedford United Kingdom)

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The Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea
The Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea
by Lawrence Durrell
Edition: Paperback

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and wonderful, 25 April 2006
The first volume, 'Justine', reads like a competent and engaging but rather predictable tale of adulterous romance - until 'Balthazaar' turns your perceptions completely upside down - and then 'Mountolive' repeats the same dizzying trick ('Clea' is a little disappointing, though). If I had not been stuck on holiday with a combined edition, I might not have progressed beyond 'Justine', and would have missed out on one of the most stimulating and enjoyable reads of my life. These books remind us that whatever we may think we understand about the world or other people is always open to re-interpretation.

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
by Dan Brown
Edition: Paperback

19 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Ludlum than Eco, 16 July 2004
This book was such a let-down, it almost spoilt a trip to Paris for me. The best way I can sum it up is to say that it is more Robert Ludlum than Umberto Eco - an airport thriller, and a fairly average one, at that. Which is fine, if that's what you're looking for, but disappointing if you've been misled by the hype into expecting something a bit more intelligent.
Where to start? The characters are cardboard cut-outs (a Harvard professor who is 'Harrison Ford in Harris tweed'??? Please!) The author's technique of incorporating large chunks of information through flashbacks to his hero's lectures is clumsy. The identity of the chief villain is obvious within a few paragraphs of the character's first appearance. And the stereotyped approach to those 'funny Europeans' is so ludicrously inaccurate that towards the end of the book the greatest pleasure for me came from spotting howlers. Just a couple of examples: no English person would boil water for instant coffee in a microwave - they would use a kettle. And Scottish houses do not have 'screen doors'.
The central 'mystery' (and major selling point) of the book has been in the public domain for at least twenty years. And the 'codes' themselves are pathetically obvious to anyone accustomed to cryptic crosswords - the characters' inability to solve them straight away makes you want to slap them (and one of them is supposed to be a cryptographer, for heaven's sake!)
In short, anybody with a prior interest in the Templars and the Grail legends will already be familiar with the most interesting parts of the book, and anyone who isn't will have to be prepared to wade through page after page of background exposition. If you're looking for an intelligent, thought-provoking and witty novel about Parisian occultism, read 'Foucault's Pendulum' by Umberto Eco - but give 'The Da Vinci Code' a miss.
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