Tag Archives: Clea


dead dragonfly

“Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  The White Queen – Through the Looking Glass*

While I finished reading the excellent Clea of the Alexandrian Quartets by Lawrence Durrell, I coincidentally began reading a book to my youngest son written by Lawrence’s brother, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

It is a wonderful book of the true adventures of the ten year old Gerald on the island of Corfu where he and his family, three siblings and his mother, moved to recover from the gray rain of England that oppressed them (mostly Larry).

“Well, we didn’t get as selfish as this without some guidance,” said Larry

My son loves hearing about the myriad creatures on the island, but I confess that what I find highly amusing is to peek into the family dynamic of the Durrell family. Lawrence may have become a literary genius, but here, he remains always an older brother and son – bossy, petulant, and endearing.

” Really,  Larry, you do make me cross,”  she said at last.
“I think it’s rather unfair that you should blame me because your organization breaks down with the arrival of a few guests,” said Larry austerely.
“A few guests!” squeaked Mother. “I’m glad you think eight people are a few guests.”
“I think you are adopting a most unreasonable attitude.”
“I suppose there’s nothing unreasonable in inviting people and not letting me know?”
Larry gave her an injured look, and picked up his book.
“Well, I’ve done all I can,” he said; “I can’t do any more.”

Oh children. There must be some chemical reason why we mothers don’t throttle them regularly.

Gerald tells the stories somehow having maintained his ten year old’s earnest delight and simple reporting of the facts and funny conversations that he heard or was a part of, which makes it wonderful to read. His enthusiasm for the natural world almost makes me reach for a magnifying glass and net. Instead I hand them to my intrepid and incorrigibly curious ten year old so I can read my own book in a moment’s peace.

*opening quote of My Family and Other Animals

Fecund Heart

“Life is more complicated than we think, yet far simpler than anyone dares to imagine.” Clea, Lawrence Durrell

Painting by Eric Ryan

“Society! Let us complicate existence to the point of drudgery so that it acts as a drug against reality.”

I had read only the first few pages of this last installment of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet when I was suddenly taken up with two opposing feelings: the first was the relief and happiness I felt at being once again amongst all of the characters  I had grown to like so much or at least  found so intriguing, and the second was the dread of the end- coming closer with each turning page. I just wanted to stay.

Naturally, the eponymous Clea comes into focus here; she is  more complex in many ways than the other female characters that have been presented – likable in an uncomplicated way, a little bit of a fresh breeze in the saga. But it is Pursewarden who draws to me again, particularly with his hilarious Brother Ass ramblings that he addresses to Darcy.

“Laugh until it hurts, and hurt till you laugh.”

Pursewarden’s wit, cynicism and honesty are so precise they leave no scars on the target, no reverberations of aggrandizement or protectionism are necessary – a simple laugh of acknowledgement is much more fitting and worthy of those whom come under the examination of his pen.

There are several astonishing twists and turns in this novel: life and death moments that are absolutely riveting. Durrell’s writing is so smooth and calm, the juxtaposition of the story to the telling of the story is really wonderful.

As I read, I couldn’t help thinking that we live in a very uptight, “square” and…boring age. I wonder what Durrell would have made of it. In each of these stories the characters, good or bad, are interesting, vivid people with lives that wring out a reaction from the characters that surround them, as well as from the reader. Without being crass or vulgar, there is an honesty, sensuality and physicality that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Today everyone is too afraid of upsetting their own personal bourgeoise prison to actually experience life and – live.

Durrell surprised me somewhat by bringing the stories (all four of them) to such a complete and satisfying end- the sort of end that really begins anew. Clea, (and The Alexandria Quartet taken as a whole with  Justine, Balthazar, and Mountolive), is a startlingly beautiful tale woven by the thread of a complex mysterious and ethereal city, trod upon by the sort of people whom are not so easily come by – authentic, feeling, fragile but enduring artists, in other words – human.

Heart of Desuetude

“He had heard and read of passion, but had regarded it as something which would never impinge on him, and now here it was…”  Mountolive – Lawrence Durrell

In the third of the Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell, (you may recall my earlier posts on the first book Justine, and the second, BalthazarMountolive, the focus of the familiar story is now set upon the idea of power. As the story is seemingly repeated through each new eponymous character the genius of Durrell is really exposed. One begins to reassess the simplest assumptions: what looked like love was mere deception, what looked like an impossible twisted dark corner is true love, true friendship, and affection. Are life and truth so slippery as that? Yes, I suppose it is so.

“Truth is so bitter that the knowledge of it confers a kind of luxury.”  Mountolive

The love of power, the passionate ardor with which it is sought and wielded is examined with some intensity in this story, but it is backlit by a touching friendship and love affair between Mountolive and the mother of Nessim, Leila.  A tragic sort of love crushed by fate and weakness of feeling perhaps… The grunting displays of power  as well as the equally strong attempts to avoid dealing with a position of power, whether that position was sought for or not are shown through personal, national, and vocational relationships. Many people, maybe most, do not actually want to be in charge or deal with the ancillary pressure that a position of power brings; especially as power often devolves into paper pushing bureaucratic horrors.

In the gear up to a writer’s conference that I am participating in starting today (I’m a little nervous, if I focus on Mountolive maybe it will go away, maybe I’ll go away…) but I digress, there were a series of essays that we had to read, each others as well as published works; the one that I loved the most and which reminds me of the themes of Mountolive in many ways, is the one written by George Orwell: Shooting an Elephant. The final line in the story: ” I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”  struck me hard. Sometimes it really is that simple- that pathetic. The acts committed by people in power, acts that wouldn’t have or shouldn’t have occurred and yet somehow seem unavoidable, are so complex. We humans are so strange.

Truth naked and unashamed. That’s a splendid phrase. But we always see her as she seems, never as she is. Each man has his own interpretation.”  Mountolive

The last and final book in this series is Clea. She has been in and out of the first three and I am very curious about her. Durrell is never obvious in which character he will focus on or which perspective. Even from book to book a single character’s life can be revealed and obfuscated in the most interesting and authentic way.

“When you are in love you know that love is a beggar, shameless as a beggar; and the responses of merely human pity can console one where love is absent by a false travesty of an imagined happiness.”  Mountolive – Lawrence Durrell

Sculpture by Eric Ryan, my father.