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The Black Book: A Novel

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  400 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
“The first piece of work by a new English writer to give me any hope for the future of prose fiction.” —T. S. Eliot

As over-the-top as it is inventive, Durrell’s breakthrough novel is a series of sordid vignettes drawn from the lives of decadent artists, doomed bohemians, and continental rascals inhabiting a shabby London hotel, narrated in turns by the unforgettable Lawren
ebook, 250 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Open Road Media (first published 1937)
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MJ Nicholls
Aug 30, 2014 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to MJ by: Scribble Orca
A striking series of ornate sentences strung together by thematic tentacles of doom, death, and consumptive Cockney girlfriends. Written with the exuberant zeal of a 24-year-old Boy Genius taking perverse pleasure in satirising the “English death” (sexual repression and bourgeois stuffiness) from his residence in Corfu, Durrell’s allusive, nigh-on-apocalyptic rant-cum-ramble is a knotty (and naughty) string of surreal images, dark and erudite musings on death and decay, clotted at times with too ...more
Lynne King
I read this book after I had read "The Alexandria Quartet" by Lawrence Durrell, about life in Alexandria and I just loved it. To this day it still remains one of my two favourite books. I've read all of his other books (well I thought I had until yesterday!) and "The Black Book" was the penultimate one that I read. Durrell was only twenty-four when he wrote this in 1936 and still feeling his way through his writing.

The book is somewhat "raw" in style and the story is relatively simple. I had alw
May 28, 2011 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
You're lucky Durrell, Chuck "the Iceman" Liddell saved you from getting two stars. The booknerd in me couldn't bare to give you two stars while I gave a fanboy MMA book four stars, so you got three. There is some nice poetic prose in this book but I just couldn't get into this at all. I'm not sure what the point of the book was. Yes, it is similar to his wonderful Alexandria Quartet but in those novels I found myself caring, here nothing ever got me to care. I have a feeling when this book came ...more
Feb 17, 2013 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can understand the mixed reviews for this book. The narration is difficult. I turned to the site for some insight on it. I've been reading the marvelous letters between Durrell and Miller to increase my understanding and I come to this book after having read the Alexandria Quartet, a group of novels that I consider some of the best in literature. What keeps me pushing forward in this book, however, is the language, the truly unique descriptions and insights such as:

Knowing Clare, I can imagine
Sep 01, 2007 Nico rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any angry man coming of age...
The Black Book has come back to me over and over in my life. I first read it in Amsterdam living in a squat in a drizzly november; it is angry and taut and magnificent—terribly flawed and scarred in a way that first novels rarely are these days. Durrell sent the only copy of his MS to Henry Miller, saying that he didn't know what to do with it, and asking Miller to throw it in the Siene when he was done with it; instead Miller took it to Jack Kahane, the founder of Oberlisk Press in Paris and de ...more
Patrick Flanagan
Mar 01, 2011 Patrick Flanagan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Black Book was for me, the most exciting book I had ever read at the time. I carried it in my schoolbag, and would secretly show it to school mates. My compositions on 'What I did during my summer holidays' were liberally sprinkled with Durrellesque styles, lines and, where I could get away with it, acts. Highly recommended to callow youth and nostalgic men.
Sep 23, 2016 Vel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essentially a 200-page-long ramble with not much happening and more-than-a-bit-confusing surrealist overtones. But, my God, Durrell's writing. It swirls and twirls and flutters about, dirty, beautiful, splendid, indecent. If this book were a woman, you'd be drooling sleepless nights over her, regardless of your sexual preference.
Jul 21, 2015 Elina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The mumblings of a sex addict delirious madman. Didn't make any sense, I couldn't even find the will to bother with it anymore than simply reading the words.

Frankly, I enjoyed studying for my exams much more.

If you ever find yourself wanting to read this book, just turn around and do anything else. Your time would then be much more meaningfully spent.
Tadzio Koelb
Apr 13, 2013 Tadzio Koelb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From my short bio of Durrell in British Writers Retrospective: Supplement III:

The Black Book: An Agon ... is the first instance in which Durrell used many of the techniques that would later allow him to investigate issues arising from his vision of the discontinuous self, most notably the layering of multiple narrative voices, and proves a growing fascination with many of the themes that would occupy him for the rest of his life.

An impressionist rather than strictly plot-based novel, The Black B
Yuliya Gorodnycha
Take out the glass eye, unscrew the legs, the arms. Remove the wig, the teeth, the silver plate in the scull, the tubes in the anus and abdomen, and just climb into bed and wait for summer.
Jan 23, 2015 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let me begin by saying that this is an important book for those interested in understanding the mind of Lawrence Durrell. The first novel published under his own name, The Black Book (published in France in 1938) is the work wherein Durrell found his voice as a writer. He wrote it over a period of about sixteen months when he was twenty-four and living on the island of Corfu. In some ways a love letter to his friend and mentor, Henry Miller, it is also a hate letter to England and a general rant ...more
Rupert Owen
May 12, 2008 Rupert Owen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I found Lawrence's prose to be utterly immersing, initially I only got so far into it and then had to start again as so dense is the painted word used by Lawrence that I found myself losing track, or smudged in. However the second attempt from scratch was continuous and I gave up noting words down to look up in the dictionary as Lawrence tends to fill entire sentences with wonderful words for the job that although not knowing half the meanings, I got the picture.

The story is wonderfully crass, f
Aug 30, 2014 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-us
Cut-rate Henry Miller, which I think even the author realized (he wanted Miller to burn the book after reading). I have to admit, Durrell is a very poetic writer (he used many words that couldn't be found in the dictionary with my Kindle), but stories of la vie boheme -- prostitutes included -- don't appeal to me at this point in my life. For the young.
Aug 03, 2012 Alan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Angry young men with big... dictionaries
Recommended to Alan by:, and subsequent work
Ahh, The Black Book. "Shall we write of her in the gnomic aorist?" (p.23) Yes, let's—wait, what? This is a challenging novel, not least because of its casual wielding of an incredibly broad vocabulary. Fortunately, it's easy enough to look words up these days. I knew "gnomic" already—it means "enigmatic" or, in this case, "ambiguous"—but "aorist" totally threw me. Google says it's "(esp. in Greek) An unqualified past tense of a verb without reference to duration or completion of the action." Whi ...more
Mar 16, 2016 Aaron rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Do you remember the first time you opened a thesaurus and, suddenly, you were desperate to start using all the words? Even if you didn't know what they meant, they were replacements for words you thought you knew and it made you sound more intelligent, at least in your own head? Welcome to The Black Book.

This book is the straw that breaks me from having to read any more books that I don't understand and couldn't care less about. I assume that when this was written all the talk about vaginas and
Apr 11, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5~4 stars.
Something of what you would expect from a young tormented Durrell. The prose is almost embarrassingly purple. Sometimes a violent violet, other times a subdued mauve. It is existential Freudian coming of age prose. It is brooding, angst-ridden prose. Prose that comes from loving Lawrence and Miller. And Baudelaire.
"These abstractions crossing and recrossing the drunken mind; and we on a planet, buzzing in space across the alphabetical stars: the creak of the earth curling away into
Dec 31, 2012 Antonia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own
For some reason, this book didn't satisfy me at all. I don't know if it was Durrell's writing or the "plot" of the story, but it didn't live up to my expectations. It left me the impression that Durrell wrote this book in order to impress his idol, Henry Miller. In some parts, there were meaningful quotes, deep and promising, but in other parts, I couldn't stop the eye-rolling waves that came to my way. ;-)
Overall, 1 out of 5 stars, because I don't even remember what happened in the first twenty
Peter Heinrich
Nov 04, 2011 Peter Heinrich rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Reading this book was not enjoyable. A bit of historical fluff associated with its publication neatly sums up my problem with it:

Durrell worked for a year on the manuscript, then sent it to Henry Miller proclaiming his dissatisfaction with the final result. He asked Miller to read it, then chuck it in the Seine. (Of course Miller didn't, instead getting it published privately.)

Whatever. If a published novelist (Durrell had two under his belt by the time The Black Book came along) sent me his or
May 20, 2010 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heraldic. This word comes up frequently within this work and if one is educated on the definition of this word, one never wonders why.
A triumph! Every author who ever put one word to paper wishes their one of their first literary works was like The Black Book.
A book you cannot put down, and Durrell, or rather his larger than life but dark characters, Lawrence Lucifer and Death Gregory, are with you every step of the way, like good and bad angels perched atop your shoulders - but which is which?
Oct 19, 2016 Thad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It is like that, primordial in its loneliness, the mood in which I set out to meet you. The history is a sort of fake I invent all day among the children to nerve myself for our meetings. You are sitting out there, under the sweeping skyline of country, with time strapped to your wrist by a leather thong. At your back the aeroplane light swivels its reds and greens on to the grass in many hectic windmills. There is no object in life but to reach that lonely cigarette point in the darkness. All ...more
It took a long time to read this book. The problem is not with the book itself. It's just that I'm not quite the right audience. Not because of the sex. It just wasn't written for me. I think it's a good idea to challenge yourself every once in a while. I had plenty of words that I had to look up. I decided to edit and spell-check the epub. Slightly less than half of the words I added to the dictionary I hadn't seen before.

This would be a great book for a poet, because it's about a poet. It woul
James Gifford
Dec 09, 2007 James Gifford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tommy...
Ah, 1938 gets no better, uh, unless you add Murphy, or, uhm, The Death of the Heart, and maybe Three Guineas. Okay, not Three Guineas.

Durrell third book is a wild romp, starting with the Vivari flooding into the harbour, and showing off all the surrealist influences flooding in for him from contrary directions: Paris and Athens. I got stranded on a 16 hour flight from Edmonton to Athens with only this book, and I think I went through it four times, once just in Heathrow. Great fun.
Alexa S.
I picked this up free at my university's library book sale and read most of it on a couple of plane flights between Chicago and L.A. The prose can be very dense and the threads of plot hard to pick out, but the value is in losing yourself to the imagery. Sometimes it gets to be a bit much though, and tries to do too much at once, and gets a bit overly pretentious, and in many ways its perspective is very, very dated. A window into some masculine existential angst by a fellow who most certainly k ...more
Aug 26, 2007 Clint rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I guess being called The Black Book and having it banned at some point somwhere and it being written by Lawrence Durrell all came together to make me read this, and it was really disappointing. I think he was really trying to be Henry Miller when he wrote this, but no one can really dow Henry Miller but Henry Miller. Durrell got much much better with age (I think this was his first book), so just skip this one.
Greg Cummings
The power and history of the Aegean is intensified in Durell's description of long, listless days spent gazing at it with the literati, pondering its blinding oblivion. “Here in these metal provinces, we are like dead cats bricked in the Wall of China. The winds turn aside afrom us in the dead land, the barren latitiudes.” Made me want to spend a lifetime on the Med.
Well, Greg, I had no problem giving Durrell 2 stars for this book. Sorry, Durrell. I tried but couldn't complete this novel. I got to a point where I didn't know where I was with it. Where were the characters? Lost within the pages, I guess. Apparently somewhere I lost your message. But not to fret because I will soon plunge into your other novels soon.
May 05, 2015 Sophie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-fiction
This is the first Lawrence Durrel's book I didn't finish.
I was bored from the first page, and after 20 pages, I still didn't know who were the characters, which relationship they have among them and what was the book about.
I'll try to read it again one day, but not in a near future I think...
Mar 01, 2008 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing first book! And he asked Henry Miller to throw it into the Seine after reading the only manuscript! Thank God that isn't what happened. This book changed my perceptions of modern fiction forever.
Peter Brooks
Though this is by no means an excellent, or even a very good, book, it is an interesting read because it seems to me that the Alexandrian Quartet couldn't have been written until he'd got this out of his system.
David Absalom
Durrell can obviously write, however, this book was written about nothing, all absurdest B.S. He tries to come off like Henry Miller but it doesn't work. I give it two stars for the writing. The content is -*** if you ask me.
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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
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“With all its imperfections lying heavy on its head, I can’t help being attached to it because in the writing of it I first heard the sound of my own voice, lame and halting perhaps, but nevertheless my very own. This is an experience no artist ever forgets —the birth cry of a newly born baby of letters, the genuine article.” 0 likes
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