81AC5F9E-34A5-4057-A7E0-C3FA3F3D908CI shall soon continue to real-time review THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durrell – the first challenging work of fiction that I experienced.
In fact, I was still at school in the mid 1960s when I first read it…

PART TWO of this gestalt real-time review – as continued from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/the-alexandrian-quartet-lawrence-durrell/

My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

Covfefe permitting, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

27 responses to “*

  1. We are treated with the objects on the room’s walls surrounding Justine as if belonging to her; there is so much to savour and eke out in this book, each next passage ever seeming the best yet! Or is that my imagination?

    “…the wise and sympathetic mask which has come to represent what she calls her Noble Self — adding sadly, with a smile of misgiving, ‘It does exist you know.’”

    Or as Arnauti has her:
    ‘There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self — because she does not know where to find it.’

  2. “She told us of the mask, adding sadly: ‘It sounds cheap and rather theatrical, I know. I turn my face to the wall and talk to it.”


    ‘Justine and her city are alike in that they both have a strong flavour without having any real character.’

  3. “We are never free, we writers.”

    As if now to defend the very conceit of ‘character’ from human as city, or city as human (even a ‘sleeping city’ if there are today ever such), these passages from Pursewarden the writer need to be quoted in full, but that would be self-defeating their context, but they need to be read and reread several times. There is nothing else like it in literature.

    Yet, having just now read the following amid such Pursewarden passages:

    “You can’t rest ever, you can’t give over and begin to scry. You climb through the physical body, softly parting the muscle-schemes to admit you — muscle striped and unstriped; you examine the coil ignition of the guts in the abdomen, the sweetbreads, the liver choked with refuse like a sink-filter, the bag of urine, the red unbuckled belt of the intestines, the soft horny corridor of the oesophagus, the glottis with its mucilage softer than the pouch of a kangaroo. What do I mean? You are searching for a co-ordinating scheme,…”

    …I did, as part of that ‘co-ordinating scheme’ (aka real-time gestalt), read synchronously some descriptions akin to that passage in Tem’s book (Chapter 28) here a few days ago.

  4. “It was on such a night that our footsteps led us to Balthazar’s door, and seeing his light on, we knocked. The same night, on the old horn gramophone (with an emotion so deep that it was almost horror) I heard some amateur’s recording of the old poet reciting the lines which begin:
    Ideal voices and much beloved
    Of those who died, of those who are
    Now lost for us like the very dead;
    Sometimes within a dream they speak
    Or in the ticking brain a thought revives them….

    These fugitive memories explain nothing, illuminate nothing: yet they return again and again when I think of my friends as if the very circumstances of our habits had become impregnated with what we then felt, the parts we then acted.”

    This seems perfect for today’s Dream Sickness (‘The Covidual: the Jungian Individual’ – that I happened to post earlier today here)

    I presume that poem is a fiction other than being a poem written by Durrell himself?

  5. “A centre of blackness in things which trembles and changes shape.”

    Yesterday’s VANTABLACK quotation (‘“—black in black—like a—colour so black it makes—black seem tame—“) here: : https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/vantablack-lee-rourke/#comment-18948

    I have now read up to the end of Part II in JUSTINE.

  6. “These days were full of omens and warnings upon which our anxiety fed.”

    The vision and thoughts (imputed or known) of Justine and myself about a figure we suppose to be Nessim at (as seen through) (with almost knocking on) our translucent outer-door seems emblematic of the social distancing by (still together) or of (now separate) close lovers today. And there is a recording of Nessim’s voice that we infer we hear through that door, presumably a prophecy of our equivalent FaceTiming today but with sporadic freezing or visual break-up?

    “You see, he too had been dogging her steps through the pages of Arnauti.”

  7. “He was now near to the man with the black patch over one eye — nearer than any of us had ever been.”

    Alexandria is a dangerous place as evidenced by a vice consul’s wife being beheaded for her gold teeth smile! Despite this, I go with a talking water-melon to see what turns out to be a conspiratorial Scobie about a secret service and something about a war, a conspiracy featuring some characters I have narrated about here.

    “‘That is where you come in’ he said with a grimace, ‘if you will come in, old man. We want you to break the code however long it takes you.’”

    Yup yup, in a different guise, I have been so far trying to break the code of this book itself! I feel indeed, despite my past sporadic eye-patch, I AM the man for that very job.

  8. Scobie’s account of his father …

    “ ‘My father was an early pioneer of motoring, old man. Early road races, flat out at twenty miles an hour — all that sort of thing. He had his own landau. I can see him now sitting behind the wheel with a big moustache. Colonel Scobie, M.C. A Lancer he was. My mother sat beside him, old man. Never left his side, not even for road races. She used to act as his mechanic. The newspapers always had pictures of them at the start, sitting up there in bee-keeper’s veils — God knows why the pioneers always wore those huge veils. Dust, I suppose.
    ‘The veils had proved their undoing. Rounding a hairpin in the old London-Brighton road-race his father’s veil had been sucked into the front axle of the car they were driving. He had been dragged into the road, while his companion had careered on to smash headlong into a tree.
    ‘The only consolation is that that is just how he would have liked to go out. They were leading by quarter of a mile.’”

    …is probably my favourite passage in this book so far. It reminds me of a character in one of my own stories – AFTER YOU: a work that has just reappeared in ‘Dabbling With Diabelli’ – wherein a man drove such an old vintage car rally jalopy along with his wife, a man suffering with ‘floaters’ in the eyes (the floaters akin to those ‘veils’?) And one of his floaters was a face of a man with a moustache! You can’t make it up.

  9. “Here and there where the swaying car threatens to sink its driving-wheels in the dune they always find purchase again on the bed of friable sandstone which forms the backbone to the whole promontory.”

    And to the whole triangulated novel, an earth’s core risen to the surface and become all? A description of the literary gestalt, I maintain.
    This is a quiet section where we learn more of Nessim, a mediaeval soothsayer, his synergy with an old man, and later Justine arrives in his oasis, an intrusion, and so do I. I, the new Arnauti, as part of a tessellation of human leitmotifs.

    Read up to: “But here at least in the oasis one had the illusion of a beatitude which eluded one in town life.”

  10. “It was as if in dying he had cast off from his earthly character, and taken on some of the grandiose proportions of his own writings, which swam more and more into view as the memory of the man itself faded. Death provided a new critical referent,…”

    A writer in the hindsight of death. I wonder if one day there will be a camera obscura or telescope trained on where I had been before I died. They will certainly not find a copy of ‘King Lear’, or any other Shakespeare, for that matter, near where I had recently sat. This point is where I surely depart company with the Narrator. More likely for me to be a book by Marcel Proust, Lawrence Durrell, William Trevor or, even, Stephen King.

  11. “Riches can buy riches, but poverty will scarcely buy one a leper’s kiss.”’

    Today, riches and poverty and contagion are triangulating differently…as this books points of view do perhaps.
    This view — of Cabal and spying, conspiracy, the then current world affairs, its cocktail parties, and gull shooting — is merely one such triangulation. But even points of view can become contagious without sufficient lockdown of our thoughts. Mine are arguably more promiscuous than most on these modern webs…? But with which code?

  12. “I knew that she divined how fall of Melissa my mind was at the moment;”
    I wonder if this typo is in all versions of the book, or are all the other versions with ‘full’ instead of ‘fall’ themselves the typos?


    Meanwhile the passage below seems to summarise this book as well as, in hindsight, the process of gestalt real-time reviewing such an evocatively wordplaying, tactilely-texted and -textured, richly semanticised, generously triangulated, inwardly phoneticised, visually graphologised, hyper-imaginative city of literature…

    “He would wake to see the towers and minarets printed on the exhausted, dust-powdered sky, and see as if en montage on them the giant footprints of the historical memory which lies behind the recollections of individual personality, its mentor and guide: indeed its inventor, since man is only an extension of the spirit of place.
    These disturbed him for they were not at all the dreams of the night-hours. They overlapped reality and interrupted his waking mind as if the membrane of his consciousness had been suddenly torn in places to admit them.
    Side by side with these giant constructions — Palladian galleries of images drawn from his reading and meditation on his own past and the city’s —“

  13. “— for at each stage of development each man resumes the whole universe and makes it suitable to his own inner nature: while each thinker, each thought fecundates the whole universe anew.”

    “The words of the old poet came into his mind, pressed down like the pedal of a piano, to boil and reverberate around the frail hope which the thought had raised from its dark sleep.”

    The old poet: Cavafy?
    Now a cross between Covfefe and Covid?
    Cf “Cavé” in ‘Nemonymous Night’ and its recurrent Covered Market and CORE as the inner sun of the Earth. Its viral lucid vivid covid dreaming. Its SunNemo. Its “Only later does the book discover that the world is quite a different world from the one for which it has been prepared.” And its “The dream sickness – like a ‘flu pandemic – caused queues at doctors’ surgeries for tablets intended for an illness from which they didn’t know they suffered …”

  14. “‘My problem’ he said to himself quietly, feeling his forehead to see if he had a fever… […]
    At the same time, of course, he fully recognized that suffering, indeed all illness, was itself an acute form of self-importance,…”

    Very appropriately, it seems, I have, in my narrating or reading such narration, halted here at least for the nonce:
    “It was as if the action which Nessim had been contemplating grew with such infinite slowness, like a stalactite, that there was time for all this to fill the interval —“

  15. “When there is something to hide one becomes an actor. It forces all the people round one to act as well.”

    … as you do to someone who purports to tour this city as if it is a book, saying that the following scenes of humanity described in sex acts are as if HP Lovecraft took over the mind of Durrell or the narrator or me! And created Alexandria, the capital of Memory, into a many-backed beast called Azathoth. It is THAT powerful. Beyond even amorphousness.

    Read up to:
    ‘If this is true you are only taking advantage of an illness in loving her,’

  16. “He had the air of a man who has fought a long illness successfully.”

    “The madness itself, of course, took no account of circumstances.“

  17. Today’s covivid, covidual (not individual), and lucid dreaming suffered or enjoyed (as well as Covid19 itself) here prophesied perhaps:

    “Yet the delusions multiplied themselves at such a rate that in his own records they give one the illusion of watching bacteria under a microscope — the pullulation of healthy cells, as in cancer, which have gone off their heads, renounced their power to repress themselves.
    The mysterious series of code messages transmitted by the street names he encountered showed definite irrefutable signs of a supernatural agency at work full of the threat of unseen punishment —“

    The latter paragraph, my hawling or unearthing of literature’s gestalt, too?

  18. “These, he knew, were not delusions but links in an occult chain, logical and persuasive only to the mind which had passed beyond the frame of causality.”

    …as if that is a description of how I feel when gestalt real-time reviewing and, as well, the Horror visions that follow here and other disturbing things often populate the horror genre works I hawl into this my site. Perhaps, my having read this Durrell book when I was 16 or 17 set me off trawling such books? And I happened to write these words earlier today about one of them here: ‘…a classic horror-atmospheric scene that, probably more than any other I have yet read, echoes today’s apparent lucid, covivid, covidual, co-Jungian dreaming. And I guess this book was planned and written out well before we even knew about such things. Pareidolia is now in overdrive, not as imagination, but for real.’
    I could write that again now here, only omitting ‘I guess.’

    Read up to: “(‘Where science leaves off nerves begin.’ Moeurs.)”

  19. Densely amorphous and pretentious passages concerning the Narrator-Melissa-Justine- Nessim rhombus

    A rhombus is a rhombus is a rhombus is a rhombus – a variation on Gertrude Stein

    See my review of Georgina Bruce’s recent collection of stories concerning a similar if even more complex rhombus here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/this-house-of-wounds-georgina-bruce/

    Read up to this section’s conclusion: “It seemed to me that now one might learn some important truths about human behaviour.”

    Well, there you go. Not convinced! By Durrell that is, if not by his Narrator.

  20. “To be so struck by a face sometimes that one wants to devour it feature by feature. Even making love to the body beneath it gives no surcease, no rest.”

    This novel takes off again, marvellously evocative of a shooting party, teeming with duck et al.
    And a death.

    “…the body lying face down in the shallow waters of the lake with the black eye-patch floating near him.”

  21. Read up to the end of Part III

    “Somewhere in the heart of experience there is an order and a coherence which we might surprise if we were attentive enough, loving enough, or patient enough. Will there be time?”

    In Mœurs and in this book, too. We authors all expect such a blue envelope from time to time as characters change or move or will be or once were. Today such envelopes are Facebook posts, Tweets or even private emails. Nothing one can describe receiving as one can with blue envelopes as a tangibly visual passing of a THING into one’s hand. From author to reader on real paper. Unlike the version I’m reading on my screen. 😦

  22. PART IV

    “…. I know you thought of her when you made love to me…. Don’t deny it…. I know my darling…. I’m even jealous of your imagination….“

    The rhombus becomes a scalene triangle – not through a death but by a vanishing.
    Now in hindsight, I see how this book I read as a youth has since – unbeknownst – had a bearing on my Nemonicon as a gestalt of my erstwhile ‘Synchronised Shards Of Random Truth And Fiction’.

  23. I am continuing to re-read the Quartet but outside the scope of my parallel public real-time reviewing of its gestalt. I hope I have already given you (as well as myself) an impression of its overlapping geometries of fiction and how this book must have created the type of reader I am today.

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