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Thread: Lawrence Durrell The Alexandria Quartet

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Lawrence Durrell The Alexandria Quartet

    I finished The Alexandria Quartet in under a fortnight, so I must have been engaged by it. Partly it was just the challenge of reading a long book. Also I was inspired to read it after reading one of Durrell’s travel books. Certainly the descriptions of Egyptian scenes and the descriptive set pieces were the best part for me.

    It is a series of four related novels all set in the Egyptian city of Alexandria – apart from the third novel they are all narrated by the same persons, whose name is only revealed toward the end of the second novel. The first three are intended to relate the same characters and events with a different understand of what is happening. The fourth novel relates what happens during and after World War Two.

    What I found tedious was the endless and convoluted analysis of the character’s sex lives. Even when one character in a hospital bed after being nearly drowned and had her hand cut off, she still goes on about her relationships for half a page. And I wondered why they couldn’t just enjoy a bit of slap and tickle, or just cuddling up for company. (Durrell was a great admirer of D H Lawrence, whose intnesity I have never got on with.)

    It all reminded me why I find the first part of Proust a bore as Swann goes on and on about Odette.

    Durrell spoke of writing a novel based on the theory of relativity and the first three novels are meant to give different versions of the same event. The idea is as old as Browning’s Ring and the Book, which I tried reading when I was convalescing before I gave up. But boring though Browning is (the laboured knowingness of the style put me off) the different view points are all interpretations of the same events.

    With Durrell it is a bit different and I don’t think it is convincing. In the second and third novel, we learn that the motivation of the characters we learnt in the first novel is completely different from what we were led to believe. Browning characterises his different voices in an elephantine way, but I got very little sense of the individuality of the characters.

    Although the leading characters endlessly analyse their lives and a sex lives, I got very little sense of their inner life. The wonderful purple passages could be the view of any of them.

    The issues of colonialism or orientalism, which for E M Foster are at the centre of Passage to India, are not confronted, although the position of the Copts in Egypt becomes central to the narrative.

    At the very end of the quartet a woman paints a picture. There is a sense that this is some sort of redemption. This is a identical with the closing of To the Lighthouse, an earlier, more succinct, more influential, better organised, but far less exotic modernist masterpiece. There’s a sense in both works that Art provides the redemption that once upon a time unsophisticated people mistakenly found on religion. In other words, the uneducated great unwashed can go to hell.

    (Durrell is perfectly sympathetic to religious imagery and practice, unlike Woolf. At the same time as Lily finishes painting her picture, Mr Ramsey reaches the lighthouse at last – whatever that symbolises - looking as if he is saying “there is no God.”)

    Finding I can read a long difficult work has inspired me to take up Proust again, which I find far more congenial.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I read it in 2018. I have to say I found it a real slog. There were good bits in it. I thought the third part was the best. It was rather John Le Carre, that part. The writing in other parts was ridiculously overwrought and over-written.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I liked Part 3 best. That it was the only part not told by the first person narrator of the rest is probably something to do with it.

    Where can I ask questions about Proust? (I'm on the third book now. I'm just getting the hang of it after 1000 pages. Proust didn't just write a very long book. He wrote very, very, very long sentences. Sometimes they are quite wonderful and sometimes I think, "Hang on, I've lost the thread.)
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    I liked Part 3 best. That it was the only part not told by the first person narrator of the rest is probably something to do with it.

    Where can I ask questions about Proust? (I'm on the third book now. I'm just getting the hang of it after 1000 pages. Proust didn't just write a very long book. He wrote very, very, very long sentences. Sometimes they are quite wonderful and sometimes I think, "Hang on, I've lost the thread.)
    I think you will have to start a Proust thread. I have not read any. My step-mother says she started to read him, but he took about five pages to describe the opening of a flower. I think I have to read James Joyce before I can start tackling Proust.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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