110 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An evocative, challenging and poetical masterpiece!
This is one of the major english novels of the century and it is a shame that it not read and known more widely. It is essentially the story of a group of characters living, loving and interacting in Alexandria in the late 30s and early 40s but, in a challenge to the linear narrative techniques dominant in most novels, the first three parts (originally separate books)...
Published on 10 May 2001
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted? - yes; engaging? - yes; life changing? - No.
I have read the first book 'Justine'. The style reminded me a little of Somerset Maugham but with less pace. Lawrence Durell has a painterly eye for setting and detail. There are tragic & comic characters. Like many deliberately literary novels it is introspective, indulgent and self regarding. This may seem harsh but these are character traits which I recognise in myself...
Published 17 months ago by Simon W
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110 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An evocative, challenging and poetical masterpiece!,
By A Customer
This is one of the major english novels of the century and it is a shame that it not read and known more widely. It is essentially the story of a group of characters living, loving and interacting in Alexandria in the late 30s and early 40s but, in a challenge to the linear narrative techniques dominant in most novels, the first three parts (originally separate books) tell of the same period of time; only in the final part is the story 'moved on' in the conventional sense. Thus, the complex web of relationships and the motivations of the characters are revealed slowly adding to the dense, rich and beautiful tapestry of the work. The novel makes the reader question the nature of reality, the truth of our perspectives and to appreciate the labrynthine nature of human life itself yet all this is done without preaching and authorial comment damaging the artistic integrity of the work. It is always the story and her characters - that one develops a real attachment to - that remain prior. The language of the novel itself is perhaps its greatest treasure. Durrell from start to finish writes with elegance and strength - with the observations of the poet and the hunger of a man who has lived through such experiences. Alexandria - the city, of course, can also lay claim to be the central figure, her presence captured so uniquely by Durrell haunts almost every page, interacting with the protagonists and providing a real 'sense of place.' It is a sublime work that all lovers of serious literature should read.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most brilliant work of post-war British fiction,
By A Customer
Since I first read it,... the Alexandria Quartet has haunted me. Durrell's style is admittedly dense, but all this means is that you get to spend more time with the book, a true blessing. It's a jigsaw puzzle, stories fitting together in unlikely ways, and each of the four novels on their own would count as brilliant (with the possible exception of Mountolive, which is only 'very good'). But taken together they are mindblowing: each complements and adds to each of the other volumes. Quite amazingly good.
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for all the senses,
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 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, this 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.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic,
This book is a masterful piece of work. At times exciting, always evocative of the great city of Alexandria, this book describes beautifully what it was like before the foreigners were removed. Only traces of this Alex remain today but in many ways the city is the same.
Durrell's flights of fancy, highly seeped in the erotic, are cleverly welded together into 4 stories that becomes 1. I have to admit I started this book many times, but it just seemed too big, too dense to get through. Then I was given the 4 books separately as a present. Not as daunted as I was by the one MASSIVE tome, I enjoyed it much more.
Ideally the place to read it is in Alex itself, on your hotel balcony with wine, beer or ouzo (as you prefer). Go in winter and enjoy the rainstorms over the corniche, the kind yet somehow harsh locals, the fantastic sea food. This book is a good excuse for a holiday.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most European English writer since the war...,
By A Customer
During the decade of Lucky Jim and the angry yet desperately serious young men, Lawrence Durrell became the toast of the town with this wonderful series of novels. No kitchen sinks, no post-war British self absorption, this wonderful series won accolades around the globe. It tells the story of a group of ex-patriates in Egypt during the war, and the sexual and political intrigues that define their lives through a number of different narratives. Ever lively text - Durrell is the finest writer describing landscape this century - and varied characterisation (he wavers between the complex and the two dimensional without shame!) make this a feast for tired eyes. If you have never read Durrell, read only this book and it will last you a lifetime.
Durrell's star shone only briefly in the UK - critics preferring the more minimalist writers of his generation once the puff of celebrity was over, but he always retained an audience abroad - especially in France. But as an antidote to Amis, Osbourne and the other grey men of the fifties, this is a fine option.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Glittering Kaleidoscope,
Throughout The Alexandria Quartet, Durrell writes with a richness and resonance that is mesmerising. It is a glittering kaleidoscope of genius. His cast of characters is full of wonderful individuals, whether it be the raddled old sea dog Scobie, or the suave Nessim, the party loving Pombal, all chime with the resonance of people whom Durrell must have closely observed. The plot is as twisted as the stands of rope securing the Egyptian dhows to their moorings in Alexandria Harbour. The Quartet rings with the echoes of Severis' poetry, and has snatches of aracane philosophy and descriptions of the Gnostics that give a fascinating insight into the rich social and religious palimpsest that was and is Egypt, along with a real understanding of the diplomatic and political interplay of Britain and Egypt in the early 20th century. Reading the book is like whirling one way on a merry-go-round, trying to watch a static object - only to discover yourself on another merry-go-round whirling a different way trying to keep your eyes on the original object. It looks quite different. Durrell twists time to allow multiple viewpoints of the same story, and then allows the fourth volume to complete the chronological continuum so the story composes itself, and the true nature of the preceding events is finally aligned and arranged and there is a sense of closure. Without doubt one of my favourite books of all time, to be savoured in the balmy evenings of a Mediterranean island, listening to the warm wind through the palms, with the creak of cicadas in the background.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quixotic Quartet.,
I could get carried away and wax lyrical, attempt to emulate others, indeed allude to Durrel's affectations but I wont. Just get it and read it. I regard myself as someone with eclectic tastes who has read broadly across various genres and the literature of various countries and I think this is one of the most entertaining books I've read. Nuff said!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story-telling at its best, characters to stir your very soul,
This is an exquisite piece of story-telling, tracing the eccentric lives of old souls scratching around in the detritus of a tired, grimy but magnificent old city. The characterisations are vivid, shocking and flamboyantly colourful. My particular favourite, the "old pirate" Scobie with his bathtub of illicit whisky, heretical parrot and manservant with an unfortunate sideline in botched circumcisions, has been one of the most eccentric and sympathetic characters I have had the priviledge to read in literature - his ending, in a tiny and stiflingly hot police cell by the docks, where the narrator struggles by candlelight to pull his stiffened body out of a woman's dress and into the decency of a proper military uniform, becomes ressurection as the dim recollection from the sleepy souls of his district mix their recollections of him with half-forgotten mythology and elevate his sand-filled bathtub into the shrine of "El-Skob", and decendents of the sailors who had caused his untimely demise fire salutes from the guns of their warships to his honour. Truly there is nothing to compare to the intricate narrative style of this superb series of novels.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and wonderful,
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Beautiful,
I am currently reading through a reading list produced by Waterstone's a few years ago. It covers a wide range of 20th century literature and introduces me to classics and works that I am aware of but would not have the inclination to read unless recommended by this list. The Alexandria Quartet falls into this category. And I am so glad it was on this list.
There is a particular breed of British writer who can summond up the smells, sights and sounds of the Mediterranean; John Fowles in the Magus and Daniel Martin does it and Durrell matches him in this book.
It is utterly beautiful. His dark descriptions of life in the Nessim household are complemented by the typical English goings on in the Mountolive residence. The comedy of chaps running around the docks in womens clothing (don't read too much into this) is balanced by the tragedy of Pursewardens sacrifice for love. (One of the most interesting characters I have met).
It has been a long time since I invested so much time into a book. And a long time since I wanted to travel to places described so well.
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The Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea by Lawrence Durrell (Paperback - 16 Feb 2012)