Clea Hardcover – Large Print, Mar 2000
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About the Author
Lawrence Durrell was born in 1912 in India. He attended the Jesuit College at Darjeeling and St Edmund's School, Canterbury. His first literary work, The Black Book, appeared in Paris in 1938. His first collection of poems, A Private Country, was published in 1943, followed by the three Island books: Prospero's Cell, Reflections on a Marine Venus, about Rhodes, and Bitter Lemons, his account of life in Cyprus. Durrell's wartime sojourn in Egypt led to his masterpiece, The Alexandria Quartet, which he completed in southern France where he settled permanently in 1957. Between the Quartet and The Avignon Quintet he wrote the two-decker Tunc and Nunquam. His oeuvre includes plays, a book of criticism, translations, travel writing, and humorous stories about the diplomatic corps. Caesar's Vast Ghost, his reflections on the history and culture of Provence, including a late flowering of poems, appeared a few days before his death in Sommieres in 1990. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
[Editor's Note: The following is a combined review with JUSTINE, MOUNTOLIVE, and BALTHAZAR.]--The four linked novels that comprise English author Lawrence Durrell's masterpiece, THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET, are set in Alexandria, Egypt, around the time of WWII. The four novels explore the city's polyglot society, full of intrigue, mystery, and sensuality, telling essentially the same story from different points of view. JUSTINE focuses on the beautiful Jewish wife of a wealthy Copt. Her story is told by Darley, her English lover. In BALTHAZAR, Darley reconsiders and retells the story he told in Justine, using information from a mysterious new character, Balthazar. In MOUNTOLIVE, as war begins to loom, British Ambassador David Mountolive enters the intrigues of the interwoven community of characters. In CLEA, Darley returns to a war-fevered Alexandria as the stories of the many characters move toward conclusion. Narrator Nigel Anthony provides a brilliant reading, keeping the variety of voices--English, French, Egyptian--distinct throughout. He offers a one-man play, conveying the passions, disappointments, and triumphs of the complex cast. The classical music interludes that delineate sections of this beautifully produced and packaged set help transport the listener to back- streets of Alexandria. R.E.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
It is indeed rare that an artist pours their all into their work,but when it does occur, be it in the 9th Symphony of Beethoven or Kubrick's 2001, it is unilaterally hailed as a magnum opus.
Clea, in my opinion is just such a work. The way in which Durrell contrasts the blunt style of description with the uncompairable beauty of the subject matter pushes the book deeper into the sanctum sanctorum of literary perfection.
In thinking about this review, perfection seems too cold and metallic a word to be applied to such a beautiful work of art. There seems to be no word that accurately describes the flawless beauty of this book, but these are the limitations of language. Perhaps if I spoke Italian.
Clea and Darley's relationship is embroidered over a wartime background. Durrell uses their beautiful private island experiences to echo and foreshadow the rise and fall of this relationship.
And we see how Clea develops as an artist. We are given Pursewarden's posthumous discourse on the philosophy of art. He gives is a lot to think about.
Sometimes I think that Durrell is Pursewarden, and then I wonder if he is making fun of himself in the Darley character. And in reality I find that I wish I could meet and know Durrell.
Clea is another must read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Durrell's prose is some of the lushest in my acquaintance. Almost every chapter begins with a word-picture that sucked me in and seduced me with a strong sense of place. Throughout the work, there are phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that jump off the page and insist on being read aloud to whoever is nearby.
His characters are colorful and deep, but their depths are not accessible at a glance any more than with real people. Durrell used a fascinating technique that reminds me of Pointilism and Cubism combined. He puts thousands of dots of color on the canvas until you begin to see a picture in depth. But just when you think you've got it, he shifts perspective and you see new dimensions in the characters that were unsuspected by narrator and reader alike.
The adjective "painterly" occurs to me in connection with Durrell, as in 'This is a writerly book!' It connects with literature as diverse as Cavafy, Forster, Parachelsus, de Sade, Freud, and traditional Arab folklore, and echoes of Durrell are heard in works by the generations of writers who followed him. Also it is a book for writers and for artists of all stripes, as many of its characters are aspiring, successful, or failed artists.
This is also a study of "love" in all its forms. Of sexual entanglements there are plenty: incest, rape, prostitution, May-December romance, and adultery by the carload... but also loves of place, of friends, of service, of status, of ideals and traditions... and all the frustrations and tragedies that attend these loves.
I strongly recommend the Alexandria Quartet to those who have the vocabulary, patience, and love of elegant language necessary to the appreciation of a literary masterpiece.
Here's the problem. In the first page or three of the actual book, Durrell throws in a note. It is marked with an asterisk, and you have to turn to about the last page of the book to read the note. On the next page, Durrell does the same thing, an asterisk, and off you go to the back of the book again. There are around ten such notes in the first book "Justine". They are all on a page of notes and referenced by the page number on which the asterisk occurs. This is not a great way to do footnotes (end notes, really) but it works if there aren't a lot of them. However, whoever created this Kindle edition didn't make the footnotes active. DOH! AND there is no active table of contents. DOH! again! That means the reader is going to have to figure out by trial and error where the notes occur. Now, if you have bought each book seperately. This is a minor hassle (although I would argue there shouldn't be ANY hassle when you are paying full price for a Kindle book). You just use the menu to "go to the end" and then page backward until you hit the notes. BUT, if you have bought the one volume edition, does this approach still work? Or do you have to hunt for the one quarter mark of the whole thing and then hunt around some more to find the end of Justine, and then hunt around some more for the notes page? No way do I have time and patience for that.
It may just be me, but it seems to me that if a publisher is going to charge almost $14.00 for a Kindle edition, they ought to make the table of contents active AND make the notes active. There is simply no excuse for not doing at least the latter thing.
So, sadly, I have returned this (citing quality issues) and will simply read the quartet in paperback next time. Too bad!
Structure: Durrell is writing spatially as well as sequentially. The first book, Justine, leaves gaps in the reader's knowledge to reflect the gaps in the narrator's knowledge. The second book, Balthazar, retraces the same material and fills in some of the gaps as the narrator learns more. The third book, Mountolive, tells the story in the form of a traditional novel (third person) and fills in most of the gaps. The fourth book, Clea, is set later in time; it once again leaves gaps to reflect what the narrator doesn't know. This is a fascinating approach, but to enjoy it, you must be willing to endure unanswered questions that reflect the narrator's lack of knowledge (including some, in Clea, that will never be answered).
Introspection: The characters spend a great deal of time looking within themselves, trying to understand their motives and desires. This can be interesting to those who like psychology. But the characters spend so much time introspecting that it becomes annoying. They are so self-centered, so hung up on everything they themselves do and wondering why they do it, that after a while one longs for a character who is more interested in someone else than in him/herself, more interested in action than in endless thought.
Style: Durrell is a wonderful wordsmith. Some of his sentences will stay with you for a long time. And he paints vivid word pictures of Alexandria. But that is also a problem: he paints, and paints, and paints. After a while, even readers who much prefer character-driven fiction to slam-bang potboilers will long fervently for something to happen.
Characters: If you like detailed descriptions and analyses of secondary characters, you may find characters such as Scobie enjoyable. If you don't, the extended time spent on such characters will become a tedious digression that slows down the story to a snail's pace.
Plot and philosophy: If you've spent a a fair amount of time wondering what love is, why some lovers are manipulative, why some love is destructive to the lovers, why and how people destroy their own loving affairs because they don't understand themselves and their motivations, this quartet will provide you with considerable food for thought. But if you regard love more as something to experience and feel than to analyze and interpret, if you believe that you're pretty much in control of your emotions and won't fall in love with someone who's bad for you, if you regard love as something fairly straightfoward and relatively easy to understand rather than as something highly complicated and abstruse, the lengthy reflections and ponderings of the characters will probably drive you up the wall.
Culture: World War II Alexandria is of course far different from the contemporary United States. If you like exploring different cultures and peoples, you'll like this aspect of the quartet. But if you like to identify with the characters in a novel as a way of getting into the story and better understanding yourself, you may find that these characters and locales are too different for you to do so.
Overall impact: Tbe book reads like a lesiurely and luxurious immersion in words, words, words. This can be sensuous and enticing. It can also leave the reader with the feeling of watching a craftsman put on a show that, ultimately, has little lasting impact.
There is much in the quartet to admire. But there are also serious negatives. For me, the considerable effort hasn't been justified by sufficient rewards. Which is not to say that I won't go back some day and try it for the third time.
Durrell jotted notes toward his "Alexandria novel" in the tower of the Ambron Villa, but began writing Justine, which he initially called his "Book of the Dead," in Cyprus in 1953. Soon after their arrival in Cyprus, Eve Cohen, Durrell's second wife, became depressed, then psychotic. Durrell had her confined in a hospital in Germany, and brought his mother to Cyprus to help him with Sappho, his daughter with Eve. Rising at four-thirty am, he wrote in longhand so as not to wake Sappho, before leaving to start teaching at seven. He typed out his week's work on weekends. In a letter to Henry Miller, he noted "never have I worked under such adverse conditions," but commented also: "I have never felt in better writing form."
Justine investigates its characters by laying down scenes and moments with little concern for chronology; instead, like a mosaic, the pieces link up to form a whole. This broken, cluttered style echoes the love lives of the characters, who are continually floundering within relationships: deceitful, forlorn, exhausted, cynical. Justine, the central character, is based on Eve, to whom the book is dedicated, and it is her portrait that emerges most fully, though there are no caricatures in the Quartet. The prose is miraculous, the metaphors always fresh, ideas and images crushed together to form an angular beauty.
Eve left Durrell before he had finished Justine, but he shortly thereafter met Claude Vincendon, who had grown up in Alexandria. Inspired by her love and memories, he completed Justine, and conceived the idea of a series of books "using the same people in different combinations." Balthazar is the equal of Justine in its imagery and investigation of character; of the tetralogy, these two are closest in spirit. Mountolive, more traditional in its storytelling, relates the love affair between David Mountolive, a British civil servant, and Leila, a married Copt. Clea, an homage to Claude, and dedicated to her, moves forward in time. Darley, the narrator of Justine, returns to Alexandria after the war, where he falls in love with Clea Montis, and they reminisce about their acquaintances. Less successful than the previous three in some ways, it nevertheless contains some vivid scenes, and the writing remains delicious.
Justine was an instant critical and popular success upon its publication. The Quartet cemented Durrell's reputation and made him a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize.