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The Alexandria Quartet (Alexandria Quartet #1-4)

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  7,399 ratings  ·  287 reviews
Lawrence Durrell was one of the best-selling, most celebrated English novelists of the late 20th century. The Alexandria Quartet is unquestionably his most admired work, at heart a sensuous and brilliant evocation of wartime Alexandria. In this world of corrupt glamour, L. G. Darley attempts to reconcile himself to the end of his affair with the dark, passionate Justine Ho ...more
Paperback, 880 pages
Published June 2nd 2005 by Faber and Faber (first published 1961)
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John Brooks
Oct 31, 2007 John Brooks rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like books
In terms of literary achievment, I have never ever ever read any book (or, technically, four books) that surpass The Alexandria Quartet. These are my favorite books. Period.

Durrell was a master of atmosphere and voice, and if you can make it through "Justine", narrated by the story's centerpiece, the exiled Irish school teacher, Darley, you will be greatly rewarded. Darley speaks in long-winded (though often lovely) prose and is clearly self-absorbed and emotionally near-sighted. But it's fascin
...more
Jonathan

"I suppose...that if you wished somehow to incorporate all I am telling you into your own Justine manuscript now, that you would find yourself with a curious sort of book - the story would be told, so to speak, in layers...a series of novels with 'sliding panels'"
Balthazar, p. 338


Justine

A rhythmic, rolling book, without too much plot to speak of. However as a novel it works brilliantly as a sort of literary expose` about human relationships and love. If there is one thing you can take away from
...more
Lynne King
Lawrence Durrell, to me, has to be the most celebrated English novelist of the 20th century. I’ve read all of his books but "The Alexandria Quartet" is unquestionably his most brilliant work in the period just before the Second World War in Alexandria.

It was originally four novels: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea and they have been combined into this work. I read this book about twenty years ago and I look at it from time to time just to read the exquisite style. I still love it. I think
...more
Jonathan
"Zeus gets Hera on her back
But finds that she has lost the knack.
Extenuated by excesses
She is unable, she confesses.

Nothing daunted Zeus, who wise is
Tries a dozen good disguises.
Eagle, ram, and bull and bear
Quickly answer Hera's prayer.

One knows a God should be prolix,
But ... think of all those different ******!
"


The recent violence against Coptics in Egypt, claimed by many to be the worst the country has seen in at least 300 years, adds a further layer of resonance and relevance to this extraor
...more
Scribble Orca
Sep 12, 2012 Scribble Orca rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone who enjoys prose without the pacing of plot
Recommended to Scribble by: that's a secret
Being a serial book-adulterer I have fallen into and wandered out of love with an amoral number of books - but I remain forever in thrall to the Alexandria Quartet.

Of course, I may change my mind in ten years. Let's just wait and see.
Manny
While I was reading Les Trois Mousquetaires last week, I wondered a couple of times if it had served as partial inspiration for The Alexandria Quartet. One of the cleverest things about the Dumas novel is the way he reinterprets early 17th century French history as really being about the romantic lives of Anne of Austria, on the large scene, and D'Artagnan, on the small one - a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Basil the Great Mouse Detective deal.

Here, Durrell takes the idea a step further. The first th
...more
Jon
Looking over the Goodreads reviews of this tetralogy, I find almost everyone gave it either five stars with the note that it's the greatest work they have ever read and that it changed their lives, to one or two stars marked by utter impatience. I can identify with both. There are breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of every aspect of nature, light, desert, sea, wildlife; and repeated descriptions of the lovely, decadent, and deadly city of Alexandria. Durrell makes you feel the heat, smell th ...more
AC
A magnificent work, tightly constructed... it is impossible to consider these four volumes independently. Though published separately, they form a whole.

I had thought about reading this since I was 20, when I had read what Henry Miller had to say about Durrell. Of course, I would not have understood, nor been able to read this at that age.

The volume has flaws, to be sure... it is not easy to read. There are artifices in the plot. The language is often bizarre... and deliberately artificial... a
...more
Bill
The most beautifully written books I have ever read.
John Vibber
I've just reread the Quartet after a forty year interval during which I've enjoyed hundreds of books, and in recent years, written fiction of my own. I was once overwhelmed by Durrell’s descriptive power and humbled by his explosive creativity. As I returned to exotic Alexandria, I wondered if I would once again be transfixed by the same kaleidoscope of words that had once rotated my view of love and life.

Four volumes later the answer is YES. Although my understandings have evolved, these books
...more
Reese
There are some stories to which one should return at intervals. I got my first taste of Durrell when I was twenty or so: I'd just described my view of the Manhattan skyline at night, and my (older, better-read) paramour (who may have had ulterior motives) said, "My God, you sound just like Durrell." I dove in and these books changed me. Just as our reflections on still water bear remarkable fidelity to us but break apart when the water roils, the Quartet reveals that what we know (or think we lo ...more
Robert
“The oranges were more plentiful than usual that year. They glowed in their arbors of burnished green leaf like lanterns flickering up there among the sunny woods.” These are the first two sentences in the last volume (“Clea”) of “The Alexandria Quartet.” It has to be in the top ten or top five greatest books I have ever read. I knew one day I would have to read it but I had no idea what an amazing read it would be. At first, one almost thinks that Durrell is just showing off: great sentences co ...more
Marius Hancu
Multiple, very poetical at times, iterations on the relationships of a tight-knit group of people, the way they use/abuse and exploit each other.

Going at it from multiple POVs. Multiple cameras in action.

Also, dissecting the inter-community, inter-cultural relationships at the time, in Alexandria.

Revealing the truth, if there's one:-), gradually, onion-style. In
that dismissal of the absolute, very post-modernist.

I took a break after "Justine." "Balthazar" seems easier this time
around, and certai
...more
Fionnuala
Writing a review of something I read more than thirty years ago is difficult but I suspect reviewing Durrell's Quartet is difficult at any time. I remember being confused by much of it but feeling compelled to read the four separate novels nonetheless. What remains in my memory today is the heady atmosphere of heat, intrigue, Cadafy's poetry and the mysterious city of Alexandria which Durrell captured in his own idiosyncratic way. The characters and their doings are long forgotten.
I don't think
...more
matt
Beautiful, eloquent, haunting, airy, meditative, suave, cosmopolitan, transcendent, poetic, romantic, pessimistic, ruminative, opaque, mournful, tender, modern, erotic, imaginative, masterful, magnificent!
Sean Gainford
What is he talking about?

'But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them. The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion. You would never mistake it for a happy place. The symbolic lovers of the free Hellenic world are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body - for it has outstripped the body [...:] Alexandria w
...more
Psheryl
I've loved Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet" since I was first an undergraduate. I don't recall how I heard of it, but I had all four volumes in mass amrket paperbacks with elegantly sexy and vaguely Art Nouveau covers and sat in my rooms at university just being amazed at what Durrell could do with language--- and discovering C.P. Cavafy's poetry via Durrell.
I've re-read the Quartet three of four times since then, and every time it's a new Alexandria, a new story. Part of that is that I'm older,
...more
Jim
My high rating may be rank nostalgia. In keeping with the old cliché, I didn't read this book when I discovered it in my callow youth – I devoured it like a gnostic eucharist. Set in Alexandria during the last days of decadent European glory, Durrell's ensemble of conflicted characters etch themselves upon the imagination. Durrell is guilty of over-writing everything; still the secret center holds. Connoisseurs may prefer his Avignon Quintet but I never made it past Monsieur. I left my heart in ...more
Janet
Alexandria between the wars. I don't think there will ever be a more sensual, lyrical, painterly writer than Durrell, nor a more exquisitely delineated labyrinthine, incestuous, brilliant, tangled society than that of his Alexandria, Egypt. A single page contains more beauty than is in the entire New York Times Bestseller list combined. If I could have written any book, I think it would have been these four interwoven masterpieces.
Brent Hayward
The author of the first book, Justine, has fallen in love with the titular character- who is another man’s wife- and writes a book about it. Pre WW2 Alexandria and the group of expats, outcasts, and diplomats living or posted there are seen through the author's eyes as the affair with Justine heats up, stutters and starts, and falters. In Balthazar, comments and notes from a bit-player in the first novel cast a different, darker light onto the events relayed in the first book and introduce eleme ...more
Lily
I thought I had a review here long ago. This is one of my favorite groups of books, perhaps because I read it the summer I turned twenty-one. I recently re-read its four volumes -- having wanted to do so for many years. Justine I had to replace -- my original was in loose pages the binding no longer held together.

The language is absolutely lush. The vocabulary still sends me to the dictionary, although perhaps not as often.

The story, and writing, have perhaps not weathered well. The world has c
...more
Keith Miller
With its non-linear structure, sensuous prose, and cast of characters buffeted and beleaguered by love, this tetralogy is one of the masterworks of the twentieth century, and remains the finest work of literature to emerge from Alexandria.

Durrell jotted notes toward his "Alexandria novel" in the tower of the Ambron Villa, but began writing Justine, which he initially called his "Book of the Dead," in Cyprus in 1953. Soon after their arrival in Cyprus, Eve Cohen, Durrell's second wife, became dep
...more
Russell
This is a set of four novels (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea) that are meant to be read together as one work. The setting is Alexandria, Egypt during the World War II years. The plot involves various European expats and native Alexandrians who weave in and out of each other's lives in a slowly evolving web of mystery, tragedy, and passion. But this novel's innovative structure is almost more important than the plot. Instead of creating a straight forward time-based narrative, Durrell o ...more
Max
The Alexandria Quartet is often profound and beautiful but at times becomes boring and banal. We are treated to a unique and deep exploration of one’s perception of reality. There are also fine evocative descriptions of an ancient Middle Eastern city and the power of place and setting on ones feelings. The low points occur when Durrell’s descriptions are simply too much or over the top, for example, “Or the tired ice-cream of poems which cry themselves to sleep in the refrigerators of the mind?” ...more
Chris
The word "epic" comes to mind when I think of The Alexandria Quartet. I read it several years ago when I was about 20, and I recognized then as I do now that it is largely above my head. That is not to say that it was not worth reading; I know that with each re-read I will glean more from this sweeping collection. I'm certain that everyone, no matter how well-read they are, will equally gain more from each re-read.

P.S. If only Alexandria today was the stuff of the Quartet...minus child brothels,
...more
Pamela
In a way, this review of Durrell’s masterpiece has been lurking in the shadows of my mind for decades. Three of the volumes have been sitting on my bookshelf for thirty years patiently waiting (daring?) for me to turn back the pages and begin again. Would they be as powerful and evocative as the first time? Would they propel me back in time to the girl I was on the bus traveling from Oaxaca to Mexico City trying to read Justine through tears shed for a just lost love? (Belated apologies to the m ...more
Adrienne
I have no idea what these books are about, but that's exactly the kind of books I like. The emphasis is on the beauty of every single sentence and the imagery that results, not on plot. These books are truly beautiful and would definitely choose them if I were stranded on a desert island as I could read them over a million times.
Melori
Dlouhá a skvostná jízda! Jedna z nejlepších knih, co jsem kdy četla. Víc o tom říkat nebudu, protože to v několika větách prostě nejde shrnout.
Margarida
magistral! absolutamente uma das grandes obras literárias do século passado.
Callie
Since there are four volumes here I will review each as I finish them.

But I love to feel events overlapping each other, crawling over one another like wet crabs in a basket”

JUSTINE. Who will reward me for making it through this? I feel I should be compensated. At first I was bowled over by the beauteous sentences. Prose that's more like poetry. But even if every sentence is a gem, or maybe because every sentence was a gem, I couldn't get gripped by the story. If you're reading poetry yes you kn
...more
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Born in Jalandhar, British India, in 1912 to Indian-born British colonials, Lawrence 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 pr ...more
More about Lawrence Durrell...

Other Books in the Series

Alexandria Quartet (4 books)
  • Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, #1)
  • Balthazar (The Alexandria Quartet, #2)
  • Mountolive (The Alexandria Quartet, #3)
  • Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, #4)
Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, #1) Balthazar (The Alexandria Quartet, #2) Mountolive (The Alexandria Quartet, #3) Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, #4) Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

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