Tag Archives: The Alexandria Quartet

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.

Advertisements

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.

Kasbah Around Your Heart

“When you pluck a flower, the branch springs back into place. This is not true of the heart’s affections.” -Balthazar, Lawrence Durrell

painting by Eric J. Ryan

I took a small sojourn away from Les Misérables to read the second of the Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell. Once I was forced to renew the book before I had even opened it up: well, the pressure set in. I had plenty of time to read too, after I was driven back into my car by a mother screaming inane and absurdly obvious instructions to her child as we watched our children play Lacrosse. She repetitively and loudly yelled such pearls of wisdom as “Pick the ball up!” and, “Shoot the ball.”  I just had to leave when she came out with: “On target!” Oh, really? Why, Thank you Obi Wan. Afterward my son said the next time he hears a parent yell “On target” he is going to to stop mid field and loudly whisper, “Shhhhhh! Don’t tell the other team that that is what we are trying to do!” Subterfuge people! Come on. Don’t give away all of our team’s trade secrets.
At any rate, having advantageously parked alongside the field I filled the minutes when my son was not playing with Durrell.

“I am making every attempt to be matter of fact….”Balthazar

There is more humor in Balthazar than in Justine (the first in the series, Mountolive and Clea are the others). Its main theme seems to emphasize sex more than love or the sort of angst and thwarted love that comprised the bulk of Justine. It is all the same characters, but told from a different perspective. What more than perspective exposes the truth for the elusive slippery fish it is? I suppose it’s the raison d’être for these little books. I found the character of Pursewarden very appealing in a sort of dry English way. The cynical tone, place in time and atmosphere of the environment permeate, but it’s the examination of the fortresses we build up that are at the heart and…well, it’s why we read I suppose.

” No, she did not mean the words, for vulgar as the idea sounded, she knew that she was right by the terms of her intuition since the thing she proposed is really, for women, the vital touchstone to a man’s being; the knowledge, not of his qualities which can be analysed or inferred, but of the very flavour of his personality. Nothing except the act of physical love tells us this truth about one another. She bitterly regretted his unwisdom in denying her a concrete chance to see for herself what underlay his beauty and persuasion. Yet how could one insist?”

Perhaps this sort of speaking makes men shy and insecure but there is a truth to it that, while going against societal expectations of what women are suppose to be concerning themselves with, is important to understand: on both sides. It’s the all important moment of yes or no.

In the book Pursewarden is friends with D.H. Lawrence which I find highly amusing, if you’ve been following along, you might recall that he has been calling out to me lately: his book Women in Love patiently sits on my desk, awaiting my attention. Seems Pursewarden and I have a mutual friend.
We love to love or love to hate characters in novels, but sometimes it’s wonderful when you know that a character would be your dear friend and you can’t wait to get his or her opinion on all matters large and small, or just laugh together -without a yes or no getting in the way.

“but to fall in love renders one ridiculous in society.” –Balthazar