Alexandria Quartet (Boxed Set)by Lawrence Durrell
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Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of:
Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war.
One L.G. Darley is the primary observer of the events, which include events in the lives of those he loves and those he knows. In Justine, Darley attempts to recover from and put into perspective his recently ended affair with a woman. Balthazar reinterprets the romantic perspective he placed on the affair and its aftermath in Justine, in more philosophical and intellectual terms.
Mountolive tells a story minus interpretation, and Clea reveals Darley's healing, and coming to love another woman.
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Durrell himself writes in the introduction to Balthazar that the four novels are part of one great interlinear which takes its theme from modern physics: the first three are the dimensions of space and the last is the dimension of time. Only Clea, the fourth book, can be called a sequel yet nonetheless, as with the books before it, it gives each character new depth. Justine presents what mathematicians call a first-order approximation to the lives of these characters in a remarkably well-described portrait of Alexandria. Balthazar creates an interlinear, breaking the assumptions of the first novel quite swiftly, and setting up the next two books, Mountolive and Clea, to refine the story. This tetrology is not four books rather, it is one volume with four dimensions, each building upon the previous. Durrell shows spectacular afflatus in his marriage of science and literature and the Sartrean romantic ideals of an ancient and storied city.
Durrell's ability to paint visual images with words is unsurpassed, even by the likes of John Updike. But in addition, the story line, set in Egypt after WW I and leading up and into WW II, allows Durrell to capture the mysterious and misty aura of the times, during which the American ex-patriate movement was strong, philosophy and discourse dominated the cafes in Europe, Asia Minor and the cities of the westernized middle east. Think Casablanca, think Sartre discussing the essence of being with Henry Miller or Gertrude Stein, think Anais Nin meeting you for a deep, dark cup of tea in a secluded back alley bistro!