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The Alexandria Quartet

(Alexandria Quartet #1-4)

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  11,149 ratings  ·  434 reviews
Lawrence Durrell's series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The lush and sensuous series consists of Justine(1957) Balthazar(1958) Mountolive(1958) Clea(1960).
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. Dar

Paperback, 884 pages
Published December 1st 1991 by Penguin Books (first published 1960)
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Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) Not on Goodreads, no. You might try one of the several websites such as Amazon or Abebooks that deal in second-hand books; I have often picked up new …moreNot on Goodreads, no. You might try one of the several websites such as Amazon or Abebooks that deal in second-hand books; I have often picked up new or like-new books for less than a dollar there.(less)
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) In terms of an example of the writer's craft, in producing four interleaved novels that reveal different aspects of the same events as coloured by the…moreIn terms of an example of the writer's craft, in producing four interleaved novels that reveal different aspects of the same events as coloured by the witness' perceptions, yes. In terms of the florid, at times self-conscious writing and the actual content--no, not at all.(less)

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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
Jonathan Terrington

"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


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
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I received The Alexandria Quartet as a Christmas gift from a dear person, and I was in the mood for reading series. Although I haven’t had much time for reading, this books had a hypnotic quality to them that sucked me in deep in the Durrell’s world, city of Alexandria. There are so many great quotes from this books that I not going to quote anything, because I can’t decide on one of just a few. The writing was magical, poetic, mystical, deep, talking about core and the essence of humans, often ...more
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jonathan by: Scribble Orca
"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
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Lee Klein
Finished "Justine" -- the first novel. The language is the star, hypnotic, insightful, poetic, abstracted, stupefying, sublime, ridiculously overwritten 73% of the time (with two similes packed into a metaphorical sentence etc). Struck me as exactly the sort of supreme Euro literary tradition that Knausgaard wanted to throw off. Clear characters, although they all seem caught in the Alexandrine amber of the language. Sexy, subtly sensationalist (not much happens except for really dramatic stuff ...more
David Katzman
Jul 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Well. This was far from being "among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century" as claimed by the so-called Modern Library (whoever they are). It was unique, challenging and bizarre as well as, at times, inconsistent (dare I say flawed?). And yet somehow in the flaws is a level of honesty not found in so many books that smoothly portray "reality" with details intended to seduce the reader into believing. That trickery of perception.

Here's how it went for me: beautiful, po
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though it took me ages to finish this massive read, the eloquence and the elegancy of the prose blew me away. I absolutely adored the fact that the plot was non linear,at least during the first 3 books, whilst the landscape descriptions were mesmerizing and haunting.
This is definitely an unparallel piece of art, full of philosophical reflections and beautifully written passages about love.

Yes, one day I found myself writing down with trembling fingers the four words (four letters! four face
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I realized then the truth about all love: that it is an absolute which takes all or forfeits all. The other feelings, compassion, tenderness and so on, exist only on the periphery and belong on the constructions of society and habit.

My gratitude for M.J. Nicholls remains at the fore of this celebration. It wasn't he that steered me to this massive work. I am honestly unable to gather any of MJNs inferences in the direction of Durrell. It was more Nicholls' esprit, that laudable expansion on what
Scribble Orca
Oct 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Star Rating

I read "Justine" many years ago and have just read the whole "Quartet".

I've reviewed the individual works separately at the links below. I rated "Mountolive" five stars and the others four.

I rated "Mountolive" higher, because of the roundabout journey it took me on.

I've rated the "Quartet" as a whole five stars. My rationale is that the sum is greater than its parts (which could almost be one of its themes).

However, there is a good chance that I will some day increase the four star r
Probably one of the most spectacular things I've read in a long time. The writing is exquisite: ornate and sweeping. The characters are cast from all corners of Egyptian society, bringing high and low together in a sensuous jumble. The shifting narrative means that as you go through the series you get more and more perspective on the characters and essential plot points. Initial impressions are upended and all wrong. More and more illusions are shattered and you're left with something painful, b ...more
John Vibber
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most beautifully written books I have ever read.
Sotiris Karaiskos
I usually read very slowly those books that I don't like but for some reason I think I should finish them. In this book, or rather in these four books, it was just the opposite, I loved what I was reading, so much I enjoyed the unique way of writing that I tried to read them only under the most ideal conditions, in the indolent summer noons, accompanied by the appropriate music of the east, at a pace that maximizes this enjoyment. I couldn't avoid it, Lawrence Durrell's writing really captivated ...more
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Nov. 2019: This book deserved and required a second reading — on which the threads could be more fully appreciated and understood. The book is too weird for a single reading. The peculiar genius — and the somewhat strange and disappointing limitations — of Durrell were likewise thrown into relief.

A very strange modernist, yet rococo meditation on life and the decadence of modern civilization. Certainly over-ripe. Durrell lived a generation or two too late, perhaps.

My sense is that Durrell is a
Vit Babenco
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say. And beauty of a word is in the eye of the reader and beauty of a thought is in the mind of the thinker. The Alexandria Quartet is a very beautiful book in all the aspects. And it is written in magical language.
“Science is the poetry of the intellect and poetry the science of the heart's affections.”
Relativity rules. All the events are relative and their interpretation depends on the vantage point of a beholder.
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nick Craske
Reading post modern novels can make it hard returning to modernist works. This tetralogy is magnificent. The story of love and obsession is conveyed through the elaborate descriptive writing about the city Alexandria. Rich, complex and compelling characters add texture and tone to an already vivid and hallucinogenic portrayal of the cityscape and are testament to Lawrence Durrell's hypnotic and mesmerising prose style.
Czarny Pies
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Ceux qui sont pour l'empire britannique, le gnosticisme et le sadisme
Shelves: english-lit
The number of speared, maimed and otherwise mutilated women in the Alexandria Quartet should not surprise anyone who notices that each of the four books begin with a quote from the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Fortunately most readers will be too overwhelmed by the sea of purple prose to notice. Durrell's four part novel is depraved but rollicking great fun.

Quand j'étais au premier cycle à une université anglo-saxonne pendant les années soixante-dix on considérait "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" c
Sean Gainford
Aug 11, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“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 contin ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Marius Hancu
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
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
Jim Coughenour
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: greatfiction
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
Aurélien Thomas
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Vast but boring. 'The Alexandria Quartet' is supposedly Lawrence Durrell's masterpiece. Four novels ('Justine', 'Balthazar', 'Mountolive', and 'Clea') shape this massive opus of more than a thousand pages. The starting idea itself is an ambitious project: to tell of the same events, but from the point of views of various characters.

First throw: in 'Justine' a writer, Darley, the narrator retired on an island, remembers and writes about a love story he had with Justine, wife of a wealthy Copt bus
Kevin Tole
A stunning tour de force of a book which is even better than the book I remember 30 years ago when I first read it. This is without doubt a meisterwerk in the canon of western literature and one which contributes immensely to the fabric of literature as well as just being a bloody good book and a great read. Durrell uses the four book style to construct a story through layers of time and differences of view and the depth and breadth of that view are quite stunning. Justine, the first book concer ...more
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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

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)

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