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Ironic Contradictions

I'm a long time reader - since way back when I was seven. That makes it over three quarters of my life that I will be a reader for. But it is worth it. When I'm not reading or wasting my time online on here or Goodreads I'll be off playing video games, studying teaching and messing around with friends and pop culture. Or reading some more.
The Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea. - Lawrence Durrell
"I suppose...that if you wished somehow to incorporate all I am telling you into your own Justine manuscript now, that you would find yourself with a curious sort of book - the story would be told, so to speak, in layers...a series of novels with 'sliding panels'"
Balthazar, p. 338


Justine

A rhythmic, rolling book, without too much plot to speak of. However as a novel it works brilliantly as a sort of literary expose` about human relationships and love. If there is one thing you can take away from reading this it is the sensuous, evocative and delectable language. It is a treat for the literary senses.

One of the criticisms of modern books like [b:A Game of Thrones|13496|A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)|George R.R. Martin|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359134576s/13496.jpg|1466917], [b:Kraken|6931246|Kraken|China MiƩville|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320551670s/6931246.jpg|8814204] and [b:Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West|394535|Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West|Cormac McCarthy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1335231647s/394535.jpg|1065465] is that collectively they try too hard to be gritty, atmospheric or 'sexy'. Justine, in contrast, is a prime example of how to write an atmospheric novel with an underlying exploration of sexuality without appearing to physically strain words through a blender. The language is organic, not relying upon cursing or vivid description of sexual organs. Rather, skilful use of adjectives creates the right sense and connotation for the reader to understand what Durrell aims to say about love and sensuality.

The main criticism of this novel is the apparent lack of plot. That said, there appears to be no plot merely because the plot is buried within woven language of such elaboration and complexity that any linear plot as readers normally understand them can be hard to observe.

Justine was still a beautiful start to this quartet and easily a 4 and a half star book.

Balthazar

This novel is far more difficult to understand than its predecessor, Justine due to what appeared to be shifts in the narrative chronology and also narrator. Durrell changes his narrators in subtle ways, meaning that you have to be focusing intently to grasp the inner complexities of the story, making it in many ways similar to [b:Titus Groan|39063|Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1)|Mervyn Peake|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327871204s/39063.jpg|3250394] (albeit less bizarre, yet the 'thickness' of the text is very similar). In many ways this makes Balthazar a stronger novel than Justine and a weaker novel.

This appears a weaker novel simply because those who found the first book lacking in plotting may find this second novel a tedious venture. As mentioned the changes in narrator (and possibly timeframe for the viewpoint) create a challenge for the reader. Yet it feels as if Durrell purposefully makes his work complex in order to allow the reader to observe that love and relationships are complex and often very messy, particularly the 'modern' way love is approached by individuals as a free-for-all.

It also appears that Durrell's intentions are more clear in this novel as to what he is attempting to achieve, hence making it a stronger work entirely. His skills as a wordsmith and stylist (which leads one to compare him to Mervyn Peake) are fully on display in phrases like "the cloying grunting intercourse of saxophones and drums" and "The dark tides of Eros, which demand full secrecy if they are to overflow the human soul...". The first phrase particularly fascinated me because it indicated a subtle sense of humour in the writing, which I assume, given by Durrell's intelligent nature, is intentional. This humour stems from the fact that the word for Jazz, which Durrell powerfully describes, originally came from a word meaning the act of intercourse. The second phrase in conjunction with the first, also reveals that though Durrell is a classy poetic writer (the evocation of Eros is sublime) he has a hint of earthiness to his quality. In other words he is both a man of the gentry or bourgeoisie as well as the peasantry.

On the whole easily a five star novel. Very highly recommended for anyone who appreciates literary novels, classics or fine prose over traditional plotting.

Mountolive

Perhaps the weakest of all the four novels in this tetralogy, Mountolive again takes the reader back through the narrative arc of the first two novels. Yet even through its weakness this novel reveals the strength of the overall work, the ability to weave a portrayal of a city and its people into a complex analysis of politics and modern love.

Often, when a writer travels back over narratives already familiar to the reader, what events will occur next is rather obvious. Yet Durrell is able to convince the reader that they understand very little of the events of the previous books, unearthing new layers and new details for the reader. In particular the hidden elements connected to espionage and war profiteering.

Yet, as mentioned, Mountolive, for whatever reason, is weaker than the other four tales in the entire Alexandria Quartet. Perhaps it is the fact of how the narrative shifts to other characters than in previous novels and in the final novel. The main character of this novel, the titular David Mountolive, is a less fascinating and enigmatic character and the encounters he has are, from his perspective, less engaging to the reader. That said, the scenes with Pursewarden in this novel are some of its greatest aspects and not to be missed by any reader.

Four stars.

Clea

It is in Clea that the full experimental and unique nature of this entire work is revealed. Lawrence Durrell, in the previous books, had experimented with chronology and nesting narratives into the tale, yet in Clea this experimentation reaches a glorious crescendo.

Where the previous three novels had followed the same plotline from different perspectives, Clea takes the reader into the future to observe what happens to the characters after . For the most part the conclusions are not happy or beautiful, rather they reveal a sense of the corrupting influence of the city. Yet this novel is the most beautifully written of all of them in how it merges poetry and prose into an exploration of the impact of modern love.

Ultimately the conclusion that can be drawn from this novel is that in acting selfish one can expect ill gains in the future. Where the idea of 'free love' had entered the public awareness Durrell seems to suggest that love is never free. Indeed, he seems to challenge the reader as to the nature of real, healthy love and ask them to observe that sexual love is a defining knowledgeable act. That love in its entirety is also deep and complex, much like the narration's flow is also an aspect of this final conclusion's didactic tale.

Five stars.

The Entire Work

As a work of fiction The Alexandria Quartet in its entirety is profound, serenely beautiful and complex. It reminds the reader of [b:Ulysses|338798|Ulysses|James Joyce|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346161221s/338798.jpg|2368224] in how it experiments with the reader's understanding of plot lines and it reminds one of [b:The Great Gatsby|4671|The Great Gatsby|F. Scott Fitzgerald|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1361191055s/4671.jpg|245494] in its poetic prose style. Yet this is a unique work, one of those which shall be remembered for years as a truly classic novel.