Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Lawrence Durrell Discovery: The Alexandria Quartet

A little belated blog about some gems I picked up in Savidge Reads' favourite 5 for £2 secondhand bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Actually they were a bit more expensive at £1 each from the classic literature section, but I couldn't help myself as it was a full matching (ish) lot of 4 Faber books.

So here they are - The 'Alexandria Quartet' comprising Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960) by poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell.

The books didn't have much of a blurb on the back and even a quick flick through didn't really help me in figuring out what they were about, but I guess I was sort of drawn to the mysteriousness of them. Also, I noted that the prose at the beginning of the first book was quite beautiful;
"The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes..."
According to the bumpf on the Faber & Faber website, the Alexandria quartet is 'an investigation of modern love', exploring the sexual and political intrigues of a group of expatriates in Egypt before and during the Second World War. Each book tells essentially the same story from character different perspectives.

I have a suspicion that these might be a bit of a mission to read, but I'm looking forward to giving them a go and hopefully finding something special.

Has anyone read these novels? Are they beautiful literature or just plain odd?! Would love to hear any thoughts before I embark.


Anonymous said...

Now just to add something really helpful... I heard someone discussing Lawrence Durrell and I can't remeber if it was really good or really rubbish, I just know that it was extreme either way.

Glad to see your still blogging when jobbing!


The Alexandria Quartet is one of the great books of the twentieth century. Durrell's other books are wonderful too eg Bitter Lemons, Prospero's Cell, etc.
If you want to read more about Durrell and Alexandria, see

kimbofo said...

This is a brilliant find! Not read them myself, but as Michael points out, this is a highly regarded quartet and one I've wanted to read for a long time. I have a battered copy of Prospero's Cell in my reading queue.

I read a fictionalised account of Durrell's life earlier this year, which you may be interested in: "Songs of Blue and Gold" by Deborah Lawrenson. My review is here:

Novel Insights said...

I am indeed blogging while jogging - oops jobbing!

Good to get some feedback, thanks Michael. Seemed like it might be a bit of a leap into the unknown so lovely to here what you think - I'll take a look at your site

And Kimbofo that sound's interesting - sometimes it's good to read about the author beforehand to really get you absorbed in something so I'll keep my eyes peeled for that :)

John Brumfield said...

For what it's worth, if you Google "Alexandria Quartet" the Amazon site should appear at or near the top of the list of hits. They claim there are 63 comments by readers of the AQ.

jplondon said...

I would love to have that set of the four Alexandria Quartet that you found for a £1 each - I would happily give you a profit. Would you accept a tenner?
I bought my first set in the late 1960s, just out of college in the States. I read and reread it, and lent it to friends. Some time later, missing two of the original paperbacks, I bought a later edition to make up the set, so I have 2 and 2 and they don't match.
More importantly, I think this work is so unbelievable a feat, the story so rich and intriguing and multi-layered, that every time I read it again I find new stuff.
Why no one has made a film from it I do not understand. The English Patient comes to mind - that quality. It could also be the subject of four series of films made for TV.
Anyone out there reading this blog, who lives in the London area and loves the AQ like I do - well I'd love to hear from you.