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Justine (Alexandria Quartet #1)

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,431 Ratings  ·  436 Reviews
The time is the eve of the World War II. The place is Alexandria, an Egyptian city that once housed the world's greatest library and whose inhabitants are dedicated to knowledge. But for the obsessed characters in this mesmerizing novel, their pursuits lead only to bedrooms in which each seeks to know—and possess—the other. Since its publication in 1957, Justine has inspir ...more
Paperback, 253 pages
Published July 12th 1991 by Penguin Books (first published 1957)
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“In the great quietness of these winter evenings there is one clock: the sea. It’s dim momentum in the mind is the fugue upon which this writing is made. Empty cadences of sea-water licking it’s own wounds,sulking along the mouths of the delta, boiling upon those deserted beaches– empty under the gulls: white scribble on the grey, munched by clouds." - Lawrence Durrell, Justine

Sometimes you discover a new author and know you’re going to be friends for life. A one-sided friendship but you know yo
Ian GalaDali
For Once Four Was Too Few for a Quartet

I decided to re-read "Justine" after something like 30 years before starting the subsequent books of "The Alexandria Quartet" for the first time.

As much as I enjoyed the novel, I suspect that it will acquire even greater meaning and resonance once I've finished the Quartet.

Each volume of the Quartet is named after one of the members of the narrator's peer group in pre-war Alexandria. The first page mentions four friends: Justine and Nessim, Melissa and Ba
Dec 06, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-durrells
I have been meaning to read the Alexandria Quartet for many years and now seems to be a good time. The first part of the Quartet focuses on a struggling writer (Darley); it tells in retrospect the story of a doomed love affair between Darley and Justine, the wife of an Egyptian Copt called Nessim. It is set in Alexandria and there is a strong supporting cast of characters: Pombal, an official at the French consulate who lives with Darley; Capodistria, a Greek who is a broker; Scobie, a transvest ...more
I woke too soon. Unfortunately, I think that’s the problem with this one. I feel like someone getting surgery who has gotten an insufficient dose of anesthesia, or someone who opens her eyes wide in the midst of a hypnotist act. I really wasn’t looking to make you look bad, and quite frankly I’d prefer it if you’d put me back to sleep, but here I am, nonetheless, looking at you. Durrell feels like he was put in charge of the puppet show before he was ready. This is a test product, not something ...more
Concise Summary:
The book is difficult. Words such as immoral sophistry and highbrow drivel come to mind.

The last part induced me to raise the rating from one to two stars. In this part Lawrence Durrell switches from excessive philosophizing to a resolution to the "characters" egotistical behavior. Things actually happen; we see what these people have brought down on themselves. In fact there ARE some wonderful descriptions.

There is no humor.

I fail to believe that Lawrence Durrell delivers a bal
Jan 05, 2008 David rated it really liked it
As you most likely know, this is the first book of Lawrence Durrell's acclaimed Alexandria Quartet. What is it about? Stupid question. Unless by "about" you mean, what does it feel like? It feels like a warm, ancient, beautiful, decaying, diverse, passionate, decadent city that seems to permeate the lives of its inhabitants, most of whom seem obsessed with sex. So it is a lot about sex and what it means, and how it relates to love and manipulation, and if any of this has any moral basis.

There i
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No One
This book is not without merit. It has some real gems - sentences or ideas that are wonderful and crystallize clearly something which is true about the world.

Loving is so much truer when sympathy and not desire makes the match; for it leaves no wounds.


Lovers are never equally matched - do you think? One always overshadows the other and stunts his or her growth so that the overshadowed one must always be tormented by a desire to escape, to be free to grow. Surely this is the only tragic thing
Jun 15, 2014 Ahmed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

لما تلاقى رباعيه روائيه لكاتب انجليزى على مدينه مصريه لازم تلفت انتباهك
ولما تلاقى ان عنوان اول جزء فى الرباعيه على اسم انسان لازم تركيزك يزيد
ولما تلاقى ان اسم الانسان دا يرجع لانثى يبقى لازم تقرأها على طول :D :D :D
اول جزء فى الرباعيه.
روايه غريبه فيها عمق انسانى واضح:
امرأة.زرجه.عاهرة (جوستين) يدور الكل فى فلكها كعادة الانثى الأصيله فى أنها مركز الأحداث فى هذا الكون.
اجنبى يتحدث عن مجتمع الأجانب فى مدينه من أعظم مدن العالم (الاسكندريه)
المدينه سحرتهم وصبغتهم بصبغتها المعقده.
من وجهة نظرى فى هذا الج
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is my third time reading this book, but this time I listened. It was amazing how much of the words I had internalized, and I found myself smiling along with some of the parts that were familiar.

I'm looking forward to actually finishing the quartet this time around (fingers crossed) and reading the other parts of the story.

The narrator does a decent job although some of the voices are so heavily accented they are almost hard to understand! The audiobook also had a track at the end where a
Moses Kilolo
Jan 31, 2014 Moses Kilolo rated it it was amazing
Lawrence Durrell's writing is a shimmering beauty, and he makes you wish for a piece of his Alexandria as much as you want to pity and love and embrace his characters.

His descriptions and observations of the human condition are as deep as that of any philosopher, and when his prose hits that high note, well, you are left dazzled. But I wouldn't lie that it is a straight forward book and the story falls in place with each page flipped, but a concentrated reading will be well worth it.

It is inde
Apr 19, 2015 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
These are the moments which are not calculable, and cannot be assessed in words; they live on in the solution of memory, like wonderful creatures, unique of their own kind, dredged up from the floors of some unexplored ocean.

Full review of sorts will ensue when the tetralogy is completed.
Jul 24, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
Having just thrown away Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I was in the market for a book that read like it was trying. Like it was making an effort. Like it was really bloody worn out from wanting to be read. And thanks to my friend Michael, who always lends me the highbrow books, I’ve discovered Lawrence Durrell. Durrell, whose brother Gerald was the author of My Family and Other Animals, which as a child I grew up watching on the BBC, is the author of the intimidating-soundi ...more
Jul 18, 2009 Cynthia rated it did not like it
Linda lent me a beautiful vintage set of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I had said something about loving DH Lawrence lately. She said they are similar. And it sounded so good; set in an exotic locale, an interesting time, a much-lauded writer, and a friend of Henry Miller to boot. How could I go wrong? I think I've been reading this thing for two weeks but I can't bring myself to finish it. It is a little story of uninteresting little people engaging in petty soap opera dramas because they are h ...more
Mar 14, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This will be a pleasing read for those who enjoy language more than plot. The writing is luscious and strange, the subject matter slightly decadent. It reminded me of A Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans, and sure enough, somewhere near the end a character is reading A Rebours. The unnamed narrator, a writer and teacher, is living in Alexandria, Egypt prior to World War II. He has affairs with a woman named Melissa and a married woman named Justine, and friendships with a homosexual, Balthazar, Just ...more
Jul 08, 2014 Jimmy rated it liked it
“We are all hunting for rational reasons for believing in the absurd” (voice of Balthazar) p 92
I kept going back and forth on this one... At times, the over-inflated language actually worked and it was able to touch on something profound and/or beautiful. But more often, the language was a hindrance. It was too much, too whipped up, too humorlessly serious and gaudy, that it was hard to take it seriously... especially when he is just talking about something trivial. it would've been better if th
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 09, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (20
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, series
Two couples: Justine and Nessim, Melissa and Balthazar. Then the narrator. The male narrator had an affair both with Justine and Melissa although he is a friend to Nessim and an acquaintance to Balthazar. Melissa fell in love with Nessim and told him that his wife, Justine was no longer faithful to him. Justine was raped and disappeared. His rapist was found dead. Towards the end of the story, Clea, an lesbian writer wrote to the narrator that Justine re-appeared in the hospital Clea was working ...more
Aug 20, 2012 Angie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely adored this book. At the start I had to adjust to the flourish of the language used but once I started, I felt sucked into it with an amazing force by the beauty of the words.

The setting is very romantic, Egypt in the 1930's and the central character, although a teacher by profession, is part of a social circle of wealthy and creative individuals whose lives are intertwined. They seem to have all the time in the world to spend with each other contemplating life, love and creativity
Aug 23, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: british
This book is one beautiful, superbly crafted sentence, after another, after another. They read like aphorisms, beatitudes, making the reader pause to absorb each one, to weigh it for truth.


-- The lover mirrors himself like Narcissus in his own family; there is no exit from the predicament.

-- We use each other like axes to cut down the ones we really love.

-- We have been told so often that history is indifferent, but we always take its parsimony or plenty as somehow planned; we never reall
John David
Oct 23, 2012 John David rated it it was amazing
Due to my anal retentiveness and insistence on finishing most everything I start, I’m sometimes not as ambitious when it comes to picking up really big books. “Justine” isn’t itself that large, but it is just the first volume in a 1,000-page tetralogy. And it’s spectacular.

It reads as an odd mélange of “A Sheltering Sky” mixed with the strongly internal character development of writers like Woolf and Proust. As in “A Sheltering Sky,” the most important character isn’t a person at all, but a plac
Robert Beveridge
Jan 22, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it did not like it

10 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars Description, yes. Plot and characters, no., November 6, 2003

Lawrence Durrell, Justine (Cardinal, 1957)

Well, my two-month struggle with the first hundred fifty pages of the first novel of the Alexandria Quartet has left me with one resolution: I will never read the other three (or, probably, any other Durrell).

Don't get me wrong. Durrell writes beautiful prose. The descriptions of Alexandria are lush, detailed, and really give
Nate D
Dec 25, 2008 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patient unravellers of elaborately woven gold threads
Recommended to Nate D by: Allen Wilcox (via goodreads)
Shelves: read-in-2008, britain
A novel that grows into itself. The language is initially of a peculiar 19th century sort of gaudiness, even in the modernity of its plotless and achronological churning of memory and melancholy.

Both initial impressions are somewhat deceptive. Justine remains primarily a character study -- of the titular character, of those whose lives wind themselves inextricably around her bright flame, of the city that surrounds and mirrors them -- but tendrils of plot ease in to pull the reader gently throu
I didn't do this book any favours by taking so long to read it. I had never read anything by Lawrence Durrell before and this book may elevate him to the ranks of my favourite authors. Oddly enough, I found myself lost in Durrell's poetic style to the extent that the plot and characters came to be of secondary importance...I almost didn't care what happened to them. This book has been analyzed extensively by better writers than I; I'll leave off with saying I want to read more of this fellow's w ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 06, 2009 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing
The first thing I did when I finished this book was to go back to the beginning, then to re-read the parts I had marked. I'm sure it will be one of my favorites for the rest of my life. The prose is beautiful (I found myself stopping to read some of it out loud), the characters are interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Alexandria Quartet.
Dec 02, 2013 Islam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
قصة أخيرة...
وداع المدينة تعرية للذات/تصنيع الذكرى

لم أنتبه إلا الآن إلى أنه قد مرت عشر سنوات على لقائى الثالث والأكثر حميمية بالمدينة. كان لقائى الأول سريعا وعابرا فى رحلة مدرسية نظمتها جماعة الإخوان المسلمين التى كنت أنتمى إليها فى ذلك الحين لم نزر خلالها إلا معالم قليلة تتلخص فى قصر المجوهرات والقلعة والحديقة الدولية، وكان لقائى الثانى بها قبل ست سنوات من اللقاء الثالث وكان مخطط له بعشوائية مع أصدقاء من المرحلة الثانوية كانت هذه أول زيارة لهم للمدينة، حيث ركبنا القطار فجرا ونذهب أول
Mar 11, 2008 Jaime is currently reading it
after a tea-party with 3 fantastic women/artists
yesterday deep in the springs
the stunning darlene handed me this book.

i have yet to begin...
but opening to a page
for a taste

this is what i find:

'to have great beauty; to have enough money to construct an independent life; to have a skill - these are the factors that persuade the envious, the dispirited to regard her as undeservedly lucky. but why, ask her critics and observers, has she denied herself marriage?'


Sep 04, 2007 Unbridled rated it really liked it
This book made me question my integrity as a reader. My concentration, it seems, is shot to some degree – however temporary or permanent remains to be seen. But for this book anyway I had pockets of trouble reading without losing my place. Durrell is a fabulous talent and impressed me from the start, sticking my nose into the neck, arm pit, and hair of Alexandria. He writes like a dream, but an opiate-soaked, English-viceroy dream, which means he meanders beautifully in long, lush sentences that ...more
Mar 06, 2016 Chris rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Justine has so much going for it: deeply beautiful language; its sharply observed psychology of love, unfaithfulness, sex; the figurative use of smoke and mirrors and darkly obscure passages misdirect challengingly. Intelligence seeps from nearly every sentence. The multi-layered narrative keeps the reader at some distance from its heart, requiring each to find the level at which he is comfortable based on his own experiences. Furthermore, The City of Alexandria, as the true star of the book, ap ...more
Paul Griffin
Aug 18, 2007 Paul Griffin rated it it was amazing
This novel is a masterclass on romantic love. Poetry, intrigue, romance. I love Justine more than I love any other human being (present girlfriend excluded). The story of ex-pats in Alexandria before and after the Great War. Justine is the first in a quartet. A breathless performance...
Jan 24, 2009 Marina rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, author-male
This started off good, the writing was great and you felt like he might try and do something with the story. I never really found myself put off by the mess of language, and the handful of allusions and direct quotes. The narrator being himself a writer surrounded by other creative and well educated types, and really it never felt pretentious for the sake of it. Slowly though, I found myself ill at ease more and more.

The feelings Durrell expresses are more then a little confused, especially the
Nov 01, 2011 Jan rated it did not like it
I struggled to finish this, but I was determined to hear it all the way to the end. And I actually enjoyed the last 20 minutes of it!
In the early 1960's, not long after the 4th volume of the Alexandria Quartet was published, I bought the whole set. But I culled all 4 books from my library long ago, because I could never force my way through them.
The initial appeal was the repeated mention of taboo topics that, in my early 20's, I had rarely if ever read or heard about. I remember attempting "Ju
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Lawrence George Durrell was a critically hailed and beloved novelist, poet, humorist, and travel writer best known for The Alexandria Quartet novels, which were ranked by the Modern Library as among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century. A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, Durrell’s prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet, whose ...more
More about Lawrence Durrell...

Other Books in the Series

Alexandria Quartet (4 books)
  • Balthazar (The Alexandria Quartet, #2)
  • Mountolive (The Alexandria Quartet, #3)
  • Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, #4)

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“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?” 1158 likes
“There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.” 324 likes
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