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Alexandria Quartet #1-4

The Alexandria Quartet

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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(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. 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.

884 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Lawrence Durrell

185 books763 followers
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 first novel, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and whose third novel, Constance (1982), was nominated for the Booker Prize. He also penned the celebrated travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), which won the Duff Cooper Prize. Durrell corresponded with author Henry Miller for forty-five years, and Miller influenced much of his early work, including a provocative and controversial novel, The Black Book (1938). Durrell died in France in 1990.

The time Lawrence spent with his family, mother Louisa, siblings Leslie, Margaret Durrell, and Gerald Durrell, on the island of Corfu were the subject of Gerald's memoirs and have been filmed numerous times for TV.

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5 stars
5,843 (49%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 500 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,399 reviews3,277 followers
January 2, 2023
Voluntary exile… Reminiscences… Memory of the past… Memory of life…
The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes…
I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child – Melissa’s child. I do not know why I use the word ‘escape’. The villagers say jokingly that only a sick man would choose such a remote place to rebuild. Well, then, I have come here to heal myself, if you like to put it that way…

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… 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 reigns over everything. All the events are relative and their interpretation depends on the vantage point of the beholder.
Profile Image for Guille.
740 reviews1,445 followers
August 18, 2022

“Si quisieras ser, no digo original sino tan sólo contemporáneo, podrías ensayar un juego con cuatro cartas en forma de novela; atravesando cuatro historias con un eje común, por así decir, y dedicando cada una de ellas a los cuatro vientos.” (Pursewarden)
Justine (El cuarteto de Alejandría, 1)

Balthazar (El cuarteto de Alejandría, 2)

Mountolive (El cuarteto de Alejandría, 3)

Clea (El cuarteto de Alejandría, 4)
“Escúchame, lector, pues tú mismo eres el artista.” (Pursewarden)
Profile Image for Lynne King.
489 reviews652 followers
December 25, 2012
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 in all that I prefer the section on Mountolive. There he becomes involved with Leila, an older woman, and married. He keeps in touch with her and then goes back to see her many years later. Always a twist and something else...

All I can say, if someone asked me if I only had one book that I could possibly keep, what would that be? Well unquestionably the Alexandria Quartet. I just find it so impossible to describe this fantastic style of writing. The author's vocabulary is breathtaking and the writing is just pure elegance.

Profile Image for Lea.
117 reviews300 followers
February 2, 2018
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 saying thing that are ignored and not talked about. It was painfully honest and written in original style that got me lost in abyss of human sexuality, subconscious places and seen and unseen realms of relationships. You can perceive city of Alexandria as hell and as whole earth and characters are not defined and fixed, their faces constantly change thought out the course of narrative, and through them you can see struggles, flaws and dark places of each and every one of us. Books take you on a different stream of consciousness than your own, and if you are willing to dig deep enough they are taking you on a journey of discovery of things that you never had the courage to unravel about yourself. This is almost like a manifest of philosophy of introspection.

What fascinated me the most is constant change in perspective that really highlighted the subjective outlook of one person, overall relativity of the truth and complexity of human character. The protagonists seem renewed over and over again, and were deeply layered, often going in the unexpected directions, not afraid to live as they want and take risks, even at the cost of being misunderstood or hated by other people. Durrell had the courage to explore most of the taboo themes of society and moral wrongs, while not be subjective or judgemental, and not injecting his own moral standings. He brings the reader in the state were he doesn’t feel like he can, will or even want to judge any of characters behaviour, even when they’re engaging in adultery, incest, suicide and other ‘sins’ condemned by society and religion. He perfectly showed the deepness of decadence of human spirit and civilization, in the same time not giving it too much of importance in the great scheme of one’s life story and history of humanity, enlightening that the deep reasons for one’s actions are far more significant that the action itself, and behind one’s moral flaws lies the story worth telling and understanding, unravelling it’s layers, time and times again, from changing perspectives. There is so little that we know about ourselves and others, and Durrell perfectly pointed the lavishness of his characters despite their brokenness.
Profile Image for Jonathan Terrington.
593 reviews559 followers
December 4, 2013

"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 reading this it is the sensuous, evocative and delectable language. It is a treat for the literary senses.

One of the criticisms of modern books like A Game of Thrones, Kraken and Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West is that collectively they try too hard to be gritty, atmospheric or 'sexy'. Justine, in contrast, is a prime example of how to write an atmospheric novel with an underlying exploration of sexuality without appearing to physically strain words through a blender. The language is organic, not relying upon cursing or vivid description of sexual organs. Rather, skilful use of adjectives creates the right sense and connotation for the reader to understand what Durrell aims to say about love and sensuality.

The main criticism of this novel is the apparent lack of plot. That said, there appears to be no plot merely because the plot is buried within woven language of such elaboration and complexity that any linear plot as readers normally understand them can be hard to observe.

Justine was still a beautiful start to this quartet and easily a 4 and a half star book.


This novel is far more difficult to understand than its predecessor, Justine due to what appeared to be shifts in the narrative chronology and also narrator. Durrell changes his narrators in subtle ways, meaning that you have to be focusing intently to grasp the inner complexities of the story, making it in many ways similar to Titus Groan (albeit less bizarre, yet the 'thickness' of the text is very similar). In many ways this makes Balthazar a stronger novel than Justine and a weaker novel.

This appears a weaker novel simply because those who found the first book lacking in plotting may find this second novel a tedious venture. As mentioned the changes in narrator (and possibly timeframe for the viewpoint) create a challenge for the reader. Yet it feels as if Durrell purposefully makes his work complex in order to allow the reader to observe that love and relationships are complex and often very messy, particularly the 'modern' way love is approached by individuals as a free-for-all.

It also appears that Durrell's intentions are more clear in this novel as to what he is attempting to achieve, hence making it a stronger work entirely. His skills as a wordsmith and stylist (which leads one to compare him to Mervyn Peake) are fully on display in phrases like "the cloying grunting intercourse of saxophones and drums" and "The dark tides of Eros, which demand full secrecy if they are to overflow the human soul...". The first phrase particularly fascinated me because it indicated a subtle sense of humour in the writing, which I assume, given by Durrell's intelligent nature, is intentional. This humour stems from the fact that the word for Jazz, which Durrell powerfully describes, originally came from a word meaning the act of intercourse. The second phrase in conjunction with the first, also reveals that though Durrell is a classy poetic writer (the evocation of Eros is sublime) he has a hint of earthiness to his quality. In other words he is both a man of the gentry or bourgeoisie as well as the peasantry.

On the whole easily a five star novel. Very highly recommended for anyone who appreciates literary novels, classics or fine prose over traditional plotting.


Perhaps the weakest of all the four novels in this tetralogy, Mountolive again takes the reader back through the narrative arc of the first two novels. Yet even through its weakness this novel reveals the strength of the overall work, the ability to weave a portrayal of a city and its people into a complex analysis of politics and modern love.

Often, when a writer travels back over narratives already familiar to the reader, what events will occur next is rather obvious. Yet Durrell is able to convince the reader that they understand very little of the events of the previous books, unearthing new layers and new details for the reader. In particular the hidden elements connected to espionage and war profiteering.

Yet, as mentioned, Mountolive, for whatever reason, is weaker than the other four tales in the entire Alexandria Quartet. Perhaps it is the fact of how the narrative shifts to other characters than in previous novels and in the final novel. The main character of this novel, the titular David Mountolive, is a less fascinating and enigmatic character and the encounters he has are, from his perspective, less engaging to the reader. That said, the scenes with Pursewarden in this novel are some of its greatest aspects and not to be missed by any reader.

Four stars.


It is in Clea that the full experimental and unique nature of this entire work is revealed. Lawrence Durrell, in the previous books, had experimented with chronology and nesting narratives into the tale, yet in Clea this experimentation reaches a glorious crescendo.

Where the previous three novels had followed the same plotline from different perspectives, Clea takes the reader into the future to observe what happens to the characters after . For the most part the conclusions are not happy or beautiful, rather they reveal a sense of the corrupting influence of the city. Yet this novel is the most beautifully written of all of them in how it merges poetry and prose into an exploration of the impact of modern love.

Ultimately the conclusion that can be drawn from this novel is that in acting selfish one can expect ill gains in the future. Where the idea of 'free love' had entered the public awareness Durrell seems to suggest that love is never free. Indeed, he seems to challenge the reader as to the nature of real, healthy love and ask them to observe that sexual love is a defining knowledgeable act. That love in its entirety is also deep and complex, much like the narration's flow is also an aspect of this final conclusion's didactic tale.

Five stars.

The Entire Work

As a work of fiction The Alexandria Quartet in its entirety is profound, serenely beautiful and complex. It reminds the reader of Ulysses in how it experiments with the reader's understanding of plot lines and it reminds one of The Great Gatsby in its poetic prose style. Yet this is a unique work, one of those which shall be remembered for years as a truly classic novel.
Profile Image for Jon.
1,291 reviews
March 29, 2011
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 the fragrances, and taste on the wind both the dust of the desert and the salt of the Mediterranean Sea. He also can let his prose run away with him--"[He found himself] a prey to gravitational forces which lie inherent in the time-spring of our acts, making them spread, ramify and distort themselves; making them spread as a stain will spread upon a white ceiling." Block that metaphor! In spite of occasional excesses like this, Durrell rendered me as helplessly enchanted as the five-star readers, but eventually as irritated as the two-stars. This work is about everything, and thus about nothing in particular. It is about memory and its illusions; about every form of love you can imagine, including brother-sister incest; about faith and betrayal, both human and religious; about art and its causes (supernatural forces? genius? luck? work?); about the inadequacy of words for accurate communication (he complains at one point that even his wonderful descriptions are only the verbal equivalent of a monochrome snapshot); about the impossibility of ever capturing truth by means of memory and expression. After a thousand pages, I was hoping for some resolution, some admission that, although the truth is not possible, we can at least make better and better approximations; but resolution would have been untrue to the fundamental claims the work was trying to make. I have a friend who has read this work three times since it came out around 1960, with a different (but always admiring) view of it each time. I can see possibly tackling it again in 10 years or so, but right now I've absorbed all I can.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
March 4, 2010
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 three novels give interlocking views of the same story. In Justine, we have an account of a complex love affair from the point of view of one of the people involved. The second novel, Balthazar, gives a different, external perspective on the same affair; suddenly, a number of things which previously didn't quite make sense come into perspective. In Mountolive, we get a third take: the whole thing was really about a messy political intrigue. And the last book is a sequel to all three.

In contrast to Dumas, Durrell doesn't say that any of the versions is the "true" one. I wondered too if Jan Kjærstad was in his turn inspired by Durrell when he composed the Jonas Wergeland trilogy - again, we have the same events shown from three complementary perspectives. Though I noticed no overt reference to Durrell, and Kjærstad usually likes to give you a hint or two.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
913 reviews940 followers
May 22, 2014
"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 extraordinary novel (see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...# for an overview of events last year in particular).

"Layering" is an appropriate term for Durrell's technique – in an effort to step outside the linear nature of storytelling he has created a series of re-tellings which work upon each other, re-write each other. His pacing of "reveals" is pitch-perfect and, times, genuinely thrilling.

Layering also occurs when one thinks of the literary techniques on display – the first novel in the quartet is very much of the turn-of-the-century style, modernist, traditionally told, full of rather naïve exoticisation and riffs on love. But as soon as we move onward, as soon as our perspective shifts, the techniques shift too. Hints of the post-modern and the post-colonial shimmer to the surface, one realises that the quartet as a whole is something very much greater than the sum of its parts.

Alexandria at the end of the Empire is a city too of many layers. Layers of history, religion, politics, class and sex, all of which are brought expertly in to play.

Criticisms? Well, Durrell does at times allow his language to run away from him and become what can only be termed "purple" or "florid" – However, as this is primarily the case in the first novel, which we learn is written by one of the characters, it can, perhaps, be excused. There is, at times, much that a follower of Said would criticise though, once again, for a novel set in the 1930's and written in the 1950-60's, much can be excused. Finally there is far too much gender essentialism for my queered sensibilities - lots of that "Woman is X" "Man is D" rubbish, which all sounds very lovely and poetic, but means precisely bugger all…

Nevertheless, I suppose the simplest thing to say about this book is that my reading of it was a pleasure from beginning to end. It is a bona-fide masterpiece in the old-style and often breathtakingly well written.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
794 reviews838 followers
Want to read
June 27, 2018
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 in the past and present), often soporific, but always worth slow, careful reading. Will read "Balthazar," the second novel, later this summer -- need to read something a little lighter now, something in which every image is not so modified and significant.
Profile Image for Paradoxe.
404 reviews104 followers
June 6, 2018
<< Ταπείνωση! Η στερνή παγίδα που περιμένει το εγώ όταν αναζητά την απόλυτη αλήθεια >>

Κάτι θέλω να γράψω, ωστόσο δεν το νιώθω έτοιμο μέσα μου. Απλά φαίνεται αφύσικο, ένας συγγραφέας με τόσο μικρή παρουσία πριν και μετά, να έχει γράψει έτσι, με όλη τη μαεστρία στις τεχνικές και στο λόγο που χρησιμοποίησε. Ο πολυστρωματικός τρόπος γραφής μέσω τόσων προσώπων και διαμέσου τόσων ιστοριών κάνουν το Γούίλκι Κόλλινς και τον Τολστόϊ να μοιάζουν με ερασιτέχνες. Μου έρχονται πολλά ονόματα στο νου, που ίσως και να έδρεψαν απ' τον τρόπο του, Όε, Παμούκ, Πύντσον, Φράνζεν, ίσως κι άλλοι. Βιβλία, σαν αυτό, τη Νύχτα της Λισαβόνας, Τη Σταυροφορία χωρίς σταυρό, είναι δύσκολο να εισχωρήσεις. Μου έρχονται κι άλλα κατά νου, αλλά νομίζω δεν το 'χω ακόμα σταθεροποιημένο μέσα μου. Θα μπορούσα πάντως να το παραλληλίσω με τους αυτοσχεδιασμούς της τζαζ, τη διάχυση της αρχικής μελωδίας, τις παραλλαγές. Αλλά αυτό που το κάνει ασύλληπτο είναι πως πρόκειται για βιβλίο μπαμπούσκα. Ήταν πολύ ιδιαίτερη αναγνωστική εμπειρία.

<< Έχεις αποκτήσει το θράσος να θέλεις να μας επιβάλεις τον εαυτό σου ως πρόβλημα >>

Κεφάλαια χωρίς δομή θεματική. Αρχίζουν, σταματούν, ξαναπιάνονται αλλού. Κάποιες μακροσκελείς στιγμές ενότητας, χωρίς ωστόσο καμιά παύση, δε μοιάζουν παρά σαν ένας πυρήνας – μια εκβολή που ακόμα δεν είναι ορατή και από ‘κει πολλά ποτάμια πάνε κι έρχονται με διάφορες φορές. Ένα βιβλίο που μοιάζει έξω απ’ τις προθέσεις του συγγραφέα του και στυλιστικές επιλογές της γλώσσας που θυμίζουν κάτι απ’ την ψυχαναγκαστική ακριβολογία του Φίχτε και το φινίρισμα του Ναμπόκοφ, ίσως και την ονειροτόκα σα ζελέ ροή της Νιν. Σε μια ατμόσφαιρα ρέουσα και θορυβώδη. Ζει το βιβλίο μια δική του ζωή, επιβεβαιώνει το συγγραφέα του, αλλά και τον προσπερνάει. Είναι ιδιότροπο και δεν αφήνει περιθώρια να το αφήσεις για λίγο στην άκρη. Έχει τις άμυνες του που είναι τρομερά δύσκολο να διαπεράσεις κι όταν το κάνεις σε φιλάει παθιασμένα κι άλλοτε σου κρατά το χέρι με τον τρόπο της αγάπης, χωρίς να σε επιβαρύνει. Ξεχνάς πως στο κρατά απασχολημένο, που και που όμως σου κάνει μικρά σφιξίματα στακάτα και τότε συνειδητοποιείς πως πάντοτε είναι εκεί. Κι εγώ γράφω τώρα για ένα βιβλίο, σα να ήταν ένας άνθρωπος. Η χαρτογράφηση της φύσης, του έρωτα και στο βάθος με συνέπεια ξεπροβάλλει ένα κράμα της Αιγύπτου που έχω επισκεφτεί σαν ξένος, της Μαχφουζικής Αιγύπτου, αλλά και της ιδιόμορφης Αλεξάνδρειας του Καβάφη.

Το βιβλίο αποτελείται από πολλά στόματα, πολλές πλευρές, χαρακτήρες ζωντανεύουν για να μιλήσουν για τις ιστορίες που έζησαν οι ίδιες. Ξεκινά μ’ έναν έρωτα που ξεσκίζει, αφήνει ερωτηματικά, δελεάζει να θελήσεις πόνο. Έναν έρωτα που μοιάζει να θεριεύει απ’ την αντιξοότητα κι ύστερα η Ιουστίνη, δίνει τη θέση της στο Μπαλτάζαρ και τα πάντα αλλάζουν, προθέσεις αποκαλύπτονται, σημεία φωτίζονται και ό,τι εκκρεμούσε παίρνει μια απάντηση και θες να φωνάξεις, πως είναι αρκετά, αλλά δεν είναι. Μια άλλη σκοπιά, μια … αλήθεια, αντί μιας ερμηνείας. Ένας φτασμένος συγγραφέας, ο Περσγουόρντεν σιγά – σιγά βγαίνει στην επιφάνεια, γίνεται το σύμβολο του βιβλίου, μοιάζει σαν κάποιος που ξέρεις και σαν κάποιος έξω από κάθετί που γνωρίζεις, αλλά που θα ήθελες να έχεις γνωρίσει κι ας έχει ασκήμιες που ακόμη το βιβλίο δεν έχει κρίνει πως είναι κατάλληλη η στιγμή, να σου εξηγήσει. Ακολουθεί ο Μαουντόλιβ, νέες ροπές με μια ιστορία που πιάνεται ακόμα πιο πίσω. Ανθρώπινο, πολύ βαθειά, με τρόπο που σου στερεί τις δικαιολογίες σου. Και όμως τόσο διαφορετικό απ’ ό,τι ξεκίνησε.Ανατροπές, λωρίδες κατασκοπευτικού, αστυνομικού, κοινωνικού. Κλέα, ένα μέρος που σε απαξιώνει, πρέπει απ’ την αρχή να κερδίσεις το δικαίωμα να διαβάζεις το βιβλίο. Να του επιτρέψεις να σε μεθύσει πάλι.

<< Τα αγγλικά διαθέτουν δυο ξεχασμένες λέξεις, συγκεκριμένα helpmeet ( σύντροφος ), που είναι πολύ πιο σημαντική από τη λέξη lover ( εραστής ) και loving – kindness ( τρυφερή αγάπη ), που είναι πολύ μεγαλύτερη από τη love ( έρωτας ), ακόμα και από την passion ( πάθος ) >>

Ακόμα κι αν είσαι εντελώς αδιάφορος για την καταπίεση, τον υποβιβασμό και τη στοχοποίηση των μειονοτήτων, σε κάνεις να νοιαστείς, τα μάτια σου ν’ ανοίξουν ορθάνοιχτα, τα μυαλά σου να ξεκλειδωθούν για να κατανοήσεις και να συμπονέσεις και τελικά μέσα σου να ξεδιαλύνεις πως εκείνος που θέλει να διεκδικήσει το δικαίωμα του ��αν δεν του αφήνουν κανένα περιθώριο δεν είναι τρομοκράτης απαραίτητα, είναι διαμαρτυρόμενος, είναι παρεξηγημένος, μπορεί να ακολουθήσει βίαιες φορές, αλλά το άδικο έχει γίνει σ’ αυτόν, όχι στους άλλους, όποια υποστήριξη κι αν έχουν από μεγάλη δύναμη. Καλώς, ή κακώς, ο άδικος χρειάζεται υποστήριξη και γι’ αυτό δωροδοκεί. Ο αδικούμενος δεν έχει να δώσει. Κι απ’ την άλλη, είναι από ριζόχαρτο το παραβάν ανάμεσα στην Αντίδραση και στο Φανατισμό. Όσο μεγαλύτερη η ημιάγνοια και η προσήλωση στη θρησκειοφοβία, τόσο κοντύτερα στην πλευρά του φανατισμού βρισκόμαστε.

Θα στοιχημάτιζα πως ο Ντάρελ έχει γράψει πολλά βιβλία και με πολλά ψευδώνυμα. Είναι πραγματικά βιρτουόζος του λόγου. Αυτό δε σημαίνει πως στερείται βάθους. Υπάρχουν ανάμικτα στο βιβλίο χωρία που αναλώνονται σε ανωτάτου επιπέδου, υφολογικά και λεκτικά άριστο κείμενο με μηδαμινή αξία και κάποια τεράστια τμήματα με τους πιο λεπτεπίλεπτους αρπισμούς έκφρασης, συναισθηματικών και λογικών ειρμών που άγγιξαν κάθε νηματάκι μέσα μου.

<< Στην αρχή γυρεύουμε να γεμίσουμε το κενό της ατομικότητας με έρωτα και για μια σύντομη στιγμή απολαμβάνουμε την αυταπάτη της πληρότητας. Όμως δεν είναι παρά μια αυταπάτη. Γιατί αυτό το παράξενο πλάσμα που θαρρούσαμε πως θα μας συντρόφευε στο σώμα του κόσμου κατορθώνει τελικά να μας αποκόβει εντελώς απ’ αυτόν. Ο έρωτας ενώνει κι έπειτα διαιρεί. Πως αλλιώς θα κατορθώναμε να ωριμάζουμε >>;

Το βιβλίο εσωκλείει όλων των ειδών τις ιστορίες, άριστα δομημένους χαρακτήρες και διαρκώς ακολουθεί τον έρωτα σε φορές που ξεσκίζουν. Για τις υπερβολές, τις ουτοπικές σκέψεις, την τυφλότητα της ζήλιας, για τις υποχωρήσεις εκείνων που δίνουν τους χώρους του εαυτού τους για την εξασφάλιση της χαράς του αγαπημένου, της μη ενόχλησης του, της λατροποίησης του. Κι αν παραχωρείς συνεχώς κόγχες που φυλάς για ησυχαστήρια του εαυτού σου, για θυρίδες με τα πολύτιμα στοιχεία της ταυτότητας σου, ως που θα φτάσεις για να καταλάβεις πως δε θα μπορέσεις να τα φτάσεις ξανά, πως κλειδώθηκαν, ή χάθηκαν, πως κατοχυρώθηκαν; Τι κάνεις; Ποιος είσαι; Ποιος ήσουν;

Είναι το διάγραμμα του εγωτισμού του έρωτα, όπως ακριβώς χύνεται σαν άρωμα με ορισμένη οσμή για τον καθένα. Αν κανένας δε μπορούσε να διαλέξει και έπεφτε η ίδια κολόνια σε όλους, σε κάποιους θα ταίριαζε, σε άλλους όχι, κάποιοι θα την υιοθετούσαν, ορισμένοι θα γδέρνονταν με μανία για να την αποβάλουν από πάνω τους, θα βρωμίζονταν, θα καλύπτονταν. Ο φονιάς είναι πάντα φονιάς. Όταν μαθαίνουμε γι’ αυτόν, φονιά τον θεωρούμε. Ξέρουμε πως θα μπορούσε να είναι πατέρας, σύζυγος, αγαπημένος συνάδελφος, υπάλληλος του μήνα, ερωμένος κι όμως τίποτα απ’ αυτά δε μπορούμε να σκεφτούμε γι’ αυτόν. Ακόμα κι όταν άλλοι κάνουν την αναδρομή αυτή για μας, εμείς δε μπορούμε να δούμε πέρα απ’ αυτή τη σφραγίδα. Τι είναι ο πατέρας; Τι είναι ο φονιάς; Μπορεί ο φονιάς να είναι πατέρας; Πως θα γινόταν η ταυτότητα του πατέρα μες στην ταυτότητα του φονιά; Πως θα γινόταν η ταυτότητα του πατέρα, του αδερφού, του φίλου, του συναδέλφου, μες στην ταυτότητα του ερωτευμένου;

<< Μου φαίνεται σχεδόν απαραίτητο να βρω έναν άνθρωπο που να μπορώ να του είμαι πιστή, όχι με το σώμα, αλλά με τον αληθινό ένοχο, το πνεύμα >>

Η μια αποκάλυψη μετά την άλλη, η μια ψευδαίσθηση μέσα στην άλλη. Οι πικρές αλήθειες, οι δικές μας αλήθειες, τα αίτια, οι αιτίες, ο άνθρωπος, η πόλη, η Καβαφική Πόλη, ο έρωτας – αντικείμενο, ο έρωτας – ταυτότητα, ο πόνος – θεός, ο πόνος – αντικείμενο, τα τέλματα, η εκμετάλλευση, η υπαναχώρηση, η σαγήνη. Αυτά είναι αυτό το βιβλίο. Διαρκώς αποκαλύπτει, αλλά τελικά αποκαλύπτεται;

Ανήκει σίγουρα στα σημαντικότερα βιβλία του περασμένου αιώνα.

<< Υπάρχει κάτι σχετικό με τον έρωτα – δε θέλω να πω ελαττωματικό, γιατί το ελάττωμα είναι μέσα μας, όμως κάτι μας διαφεύγει από τη φύση του. Ο έρωτας είναι τρομαχτικά στερεός και ο καθένας μας έχει στη διάθεση του μια πολύ συγκεκριμένη δόση, ένα δελτίο αν θες. Είναι ικανός να παρουσιάζεται με άπειρες μορφές και να προσδένεται σε άπειρους ανθρώπους. Όμως είναι περιορισμένος ποσοτικά, μπορεί να ξεπέσει, να φθαρεί και ν’ αρχίσει να σβήνει πριν καν αγγίξει το πραγματικό του αντικείμενο. Γιατί ο προορισμός του βρίσκεται κάπου στις βαθύτατες περιοχές της ψυχής, όπου κάποτε φτάνει στο σημείο ν’ αναγνωριστεί ως έρως του εαυτού, το έδαφος που πάνω του οικοδομούμε έναν τύπο ψυχικής υγείας. Δεν εννοώ ούτε τον εγωισμό, ούτε το ναρκισσισμό >>

Profile Image for Sophie.
660 reviews
May 27, 2015
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 faces!) with which every story-teller since the world began has staked his slender claim to the attention of his fellow-men. Words which presage simply the old story of an artist coming of age. I wrote: "Once upon a time…." And I felt as if the whole universe had given me a nudge!
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books446 followers
July 15, 2018
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, poetic writing...followed by casual racism...then brilliant artistic insights...then ugly amoral behavior...then cultural revelations...then awkward construction...then imaginative atmospheric metaphors capturing a sense of place and time...then postmodern literary devices....etc etc. This book is such an odd duck that it certainly does achieve something quite unique in English literature, I do agree with that. I can almost compare it, in a way, to Infinite Jest, not in content or style but in the innate inconsistency that defies categorization. The awkwardness at times felt as though the author was "showing his work," (and a writer is the main character). So is it "post modern" or is it not? It's ambiguous, sprawling, beastly, occasionally boring. It's not one thing. It's four books that meander through a continuous storyline in diverse ways.

One of the oddities is the perspective changes. Book One, Justine, is told from the first person perspective of the writer Darley. Book Two, Balthazar is also told by Darley, however it completely alters the understanding we have about the characters from Book One. It straddles this odd border between metafiction and fiction because it features a partial retelling of the events from Book One. I would subtitle it, "The Misperceptions of Darley." The premise is that Darley gave the manuscript of Book One (it's implied but never quite stated that Durrell's actual Book One is Darley's manuscript) to this other character Balthazar, who then "corrects" all of Darley's misperceptions. Much like an editor might use Comments in Microsoft Word to make revisionary suggestions to an authors draft. Book Two reveals that there was so much behind the scenes that Darley didn't understand, it completely repositions (a new perspective), the characters from Book One. One of the repeated themes of the book is that we really never understand each other (what makes up a "self" is highly questionable as well), and over and over in the series, new facets of individuals and motives and previously unrevealed actions causes us to reevaluate the characters many times over. Couple that with changes that happen to them over time, it highly destabilizes the concept of "identity."

Book Three, Mountolive, throws another wrench into the consistency of the story in that it is told from a third person perspective, a close god's-eye view from inside some of the characters featured in Books One and Two. This was a strange shift that was not particularly justified by Durrell and presents details that Darley never could have known (authorial invention?). One might hypothesize that it represents a book "written by Darley," as if the character wrote Book 3...however, this premise is again never directly stated, so I found the shift awkward.

The fourth book, Clea, returns us to Darley's first person perspective much as in Books One and Two. Again, new aspects to the characters are revealed or have evolved. We never really knew them, and they are constantly in a state of flux, just as quantum particles and the universe are.

Most impressive throughout The Alexandria Quartet is the nearly baroque poetic language. Durrell is quite masterful and insightful when he allows his characters to be. There are, in fact, TWO writers as characters in the book and Durrell manages to make them both talented, artistic and eloquent and yet utterly distinct. Very skillful, subtle writing.

The racism is absolutely disturbing, without question. It would seem likely that, being true to British expats living in Egypt before and just after World War II, the characters are going to be infused with racialist views. But the casual use of racist epithets to describe black music and black musicians is disturbing, not to mention the exotic portrayal of Egyptians. Exoticism in its own way is something that betrays a level of racism that has been written about by various cultural critics; it portrays races as "other" and incomprehensible. If Durrell were weaving this into his story for a thematic reason, giving him the benefit of intentionality, it would likely be to point out that we are ALL exotic and incomprehensible to each other. Durrell certainly never sugarcoats the brutality or prejudice of his characters and makes no obvious judgement upon them. He presents the occurrences rather neutrally or amorally. This is dicey indeed. Does it matter what he the author thought? Or is it more important how we now reflect on this series published in the late 1950s? It's jarring to read such casually used language, as if it's just an everyday thing. Yet I think it was rather valuable, in an odd way, because it put me in the mindset of how Trump spoke about immigrants "infesting" this country or, like Roseann Barr tossing off her racist tweets. This is casual conversation for many Americans. It might have been a very small aspect of this book to Durrell, but it had a big effect on me as a reader today. Racist beliefs are just an assumed, automatic and off-hand aspect of the worldview of so many individuals that changing it will require a lot of significant social change. Of course right now, we are going in the opposite direction with the mainstreaming of racism.

Without a doubt, this is an unusual and powerful work but not one I can particularly recommend. I would think those with patience for the unfolding of a story who appreciate off-kilter experimental works that live in an undefinable quantum state of wtf...then yes, perhaps this is for you. Strangely enough, I've heard this described by some as a "romance." It seemed more an anti-romance to me.
Profile Image for Marijana ☕✨.
445 reviews87 followers
March 1, 2021
Aleksandrijski kvartet ne bih ubrojala u najbolje knjige koje sam pročitala (pre svega zato što mi je nedostajala ona žica koja bi me krajnje subjektivno povezala sa delom), ali definitivno nikad nisam čitala ovako nešto i zato dajem najvišu ocenu. Ipak sam se mesec dana družila sa likovima i bilo je nemoguće da se ne vežem za njih. Da li je moglo da bude kraće i sa manje grandioznih pasusa i opisa? Apsolutno, ali to onda ne bi bilo ovakvo delo kakvo jeste.

Kvartet je kompleksno, sveobuhvatno delo, mistično, poetično, filozofsko, veoma psihološko. Mislim da je pametan potez izdavača da spoji sve u jednu knjigu. Na početku sam se mučila sa Justinom i nju sam najduže čitala, ali sa Baltazarom sam krenula da gutam (koliko je to moguće uraditi sa Darelovim slojevitim stilom, beskonačnim opisima i tumačenjima) i mislim da mi je druga knjiga najbolja. Fenomenalan mi je bio momenat kada se naš nepouzdani narator iz Justine u Baltazaru suočava sa činjenicama koje su mu bile nepoznate i koje su bacile novo svetlo na likove i radnju. U Mauntolivu, koji je bio malo više politički, čitalac saznaje dodatne konspiracije iza kulise. I na kraju Klea (moj omiljeni lik), završnica koja je na momente poput bezbrižnog leta, a na momente teška kao sparno popodne.

Lorens Darel na neverovatan način pristupa istini i njenoj krhkosti, svim senkama ljudskih bića, najnižim i najvišim porivima. Pre svega pristupa ljubavi iz svih uglova – strast, seks, zaljubljenost, idealizovanje, šta je to što nas privlači kod suprotnog ili istog pola, gde je granica našeg učitavanja, volimo li osobu ili sopstvenu ideju o njoj... Kod njega ima dosta dekadencije, hirovitosti, ali i transformacije, iskupljenja. On piše o životu jednog grada koji je život svih njegovih likova i to jako opipljivo; oseća se autobiografsko. Neko reče da je u ovom slučaju delo veće od svojih tema i slažem se sa tim.

Zbog važnosti topografskog, na momente sam se osećala kao da sam ponovo na Krfu, valjda i zbog te povezanosti porodice Darel sa tim ostrvom, a možda zato što je meni to mesto drago kao naratoru Aleksandrija i zato što tamo mogu da zamislim sebe uvek (vraćanje Krfu je poput nekog večnog vraćanja sebi).
I za kraj jedna primedba svim izdavačima engleskog jezika -dokle će da pretpostavljaju da svi znamo francuski i da nam ne treba prevod random umetnutih rečenica na tom jeziku? Postoje romani sa kliše izrazima i jednostavnim rečenicama koje mogu da razumem zahvaljujući poznavanju ostalih romanskih jezika, ali postoji i Aleksandrijski kvartet u kome je sve kompleksno, pa tako i francuski jezik.

Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
855 reviews2,130 followers
May 10, 2015
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 ratings to five.

Durrell deserves to be considered in the same company as Proust for both subject matter and prose.









Profile Image for Elizabeth.
697 reviews29.1k followers
December 1, 2017
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, but utterly real.

Only few quotes from Clea. KNH broke and lost most of my highlights :(

"Words are the mirrors of our discontents merely; they contain all the huge unhatched eggs of the world's sorrows."

"Eloquent and silent water-ballets which allowed us to correspond only by smile and gesture."

"We carry in ourselves the biological trophies they bequeathed us by their failure to use up life--alignment of an eye, responsive curve of a nose; or in still more fugitive forms like someone's dead laugh, or a dimple which excites a long-buried smile."

"Art is not art unless it threatens your very existence. Could you repeat that, please, more slowly?"
Profile Image for Alma.
620 reviews
November 19, 2020
Que viagem!

"O mar está novamente agitado hoje, com rajadas de vento que despertam os sentidos."

"E foi preciso vir até tão longe para compreender! Vivendo neste promontório escalvado, onde todas as noites Arcturo vem disputar-me às trevas, longe da poeira e dos relentos calcários das tardes de verão; compreendo agora que nenhum de nós é responsável pelo que se passou. É a cidade que deve ser julgada, embora seja sobre nós, os seus filhos, que recaia a punição."
Profile Image for João Sampaio.
126 reviews28 followers
June 16, 2020
NÃO, ainda não li a totalidade das mais de 900 páginas.

Confuso. Foi como me senti, percorrendo as primeiras 209 páginas deste Quarteto de Alexandria. Senti uma enorme imaturidade literária (não sei sequer se isto fará sentido) ao ler este livro.

“Justine”, um dos pináculos da ficção inglesa, que retrata o amor. O amor aqui apresentado nas mais variadas formas (apaixonado, platónico, atrofiado, não correspondido).
Uma experiência de leitura…diferente!

“Justine”, decorre em Alexandria, no Egito, um pouco antes da Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Este primeiro romance deste Quarteto, começa intrigantemente com um narrador sem nome, que vive numa ilha também ela sem nome. Nesse primeiro enquadramento, o narrador está com um filho que ele identifica como sendo filho de Melissa, uma ex-amante, entretanto falecida. Nesse cenário algo sombrio, inconclusivo, diria até que “mutilado”, o narrador recorre e enquadra imagens de Alexandria e explora um círculo de indivíduos, ao qual ele pertencia. Numa fase inicial, um círculo invulgar, onde apenas conhecia cada um de seus membros “apenas de vista”.

As cenas vão-nos surgindo de modo desordenado, mudando frequentemente, as personagens são referenciadas casualmente e apenas “introduzidas” muito mais tarde. O narrador identifica o tempo apenas no sentido mais vago (expressões como: uma vez, muito mais tarde, ele contou-me.… E eu as conheci muitos meses antes de nos conhecermos ...).

Uma prosa, sem dúvida, com imensa qualidade, mas que foi para mim uma leitura sufocante, que teve algo de claustrofóbico (não consigo explicar por quê).
Uma escrita onde as personagens (me) surgem como meras figuras, dando a sensação de um autor desprovido de emoção.

A generalidade das personagens são do tipo cosmopolita, com formação superior e com alguns traços em comum – deprimidos, desiludidos, infiéis e numa constante luta e discussão sobre Deus. Um grupo estranho, frustrante, mas que definitivamente se compreende bem.

O narrador surgiu-me como alguém apático e um verdadeiro fracasso nas relações públicas.

Justine, surge como alguém cercado pelos seus filósofos, cercada por medicamentos, garrafas, seringas. No entanto, é retratada como uma mulher em que “…os homens soubessem imediatamente que se encontravam na presença de uma mulher a quem não podiam aplicar, para julgá-la, o mesmo critério que utilizavam com as outras.” Uma verdadeira self-made muse. Uma personagem contraditória e com uma irritante e persistente necessidade de se desculpar, de justificar a sua conduta, de justificar os seus amantes.
Justine, surge aqui com um evidente paralelismo com a cidade - "ambas têm um sabor forte, mas sem um carácter real."

Melissa surge como a antítese de Justine. É delicada e carinhosa, sendo tratada com desdém.

Depois, encarreiram-se uma série de personagens:
- Nessim, marido dedicado de Justine, cuja consciência da sua infidelidade o envia lenta e dolorosamente até ao fundo do poço;
- Pursewarden, um célebre autor de uma série de livros intitulados Deus é um humorista;
- Balthazar, um professor filósofo;
- Clea, uma artista e celibatária;
- Mnemjian, um barbeiro anão e corcunda;
- Pombal, um mulherengo francês;
- Capodistria, mais um duende do que um homem…

Um enredo com uma série de subtramas entrelaçadas e alguma ironia.
A dada altura o narrador é recrutado para os Serviços Secretos, um camelo é massacrado e desmembrado na rua, homens morrem sós, algumas prostitutas são crianças, … Uma obra que abarca tanta coisa, tornou-se para mim assustador tentar ter uma leitura agradável. Tentei, mas não consegui!

Terminada esta primeira obra deste quarteto, sigo para a segunda (um dia destes...)
Profile Image for John Vibber.
Author 2 books29 followers
July 26, 2013
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 remain one of my few benchmarks for judging a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Sotiris Karaiskos.
1,132 reviews79 followers
July 30, 2019
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 me from the first words of the first book, and that fascination lasted until the end. It's so beautiful, so poetic, so well-structured, so rich, it has such an ability to create images and convey thoughts and feelings that I really can't describe the wonderful feeling it created for me. With it as a guide we stroll through the wonderful city of Alexandria, live the sensuality of the orient at the pace dictated by the hot sun of Egypt, we see this mix of cultures represented by its old and new inhabitants coming from Europe and in the end we are watching the important world developments that could not but affect a city that has always enjoyed the mysterious.

As for the story the author tells us, it may not matter so much, we do not follow it in any logical order but in a confused and indefinable way, going from beginning to end and at various stages of the story almost by accident, following the author's thoughts. So we watch the various characters in different episodes of their lives, in their big and small moments, in their thoughts and emotions, in everything that reveals how they experience with the body and soul what the city of Alexandria offers them. All of these characters have something unique and special, and this combination of their stories creates a result that sums up the charm of that time, as the author perceived it.

Four wonderful books that offer a particularly beautiful literary journey that my poor abilities are probably not enough to describe in a way that suits it. Perhaps in some of my next visits to this unique work, I can add something more, until then all I can say is that it is a collection of books that must be read by all who enjoy the true essence of literature.

Συνήθως διαβάζω με πολύ αργούς ρυθμούς εκείνα τα βιβλία που δεν μου αρέσουν αλλά για κάποιο λόγο θεωρώ ότι πρέπει να τα τελειώσω. Σε αυτό το βιβλίο, ή μάλλον σε αυτά τα τέσσερα βιβλία, έγινε το ακριβώς αντίθετο, μου άρεσε τόσο πολύ αυτό που διάβαζα, απολάμβανα τόσο πολύ τον μοναδικό τρόπο γραφής που προσπαθούσα το διάβασμά τους να γίνεται μόνο κάτω από τις ιδανικότερες συνθήκες, σε νωχελικά καλοκαιρινά μεσημέρια, με τη συνοδεία κατάλληλης μουσικής της ανατολής, με έναν ρυθμό που μεγιστοποιεί αυτή την απόλαυση. Δεν μπορούσα να το αποφύγω αυτό, η γραφή του Lawrence Durrell πραγματικά με μάγεψε από τις πρώτες λέξεις του πρώτου βιβλίου και αυτή η μαγεία κράτησε μέχρι το τέλος. Είναι τόσο όμορφη, τόσο ποιητική, τόσο καλά δομημένη, τόσο πλούσια, έχει τέτοια δυνατότητα να δημιουργεί εικόνες και να μεταδίδει σκέψεις και συναισθήματα που πραγματικά δεν μπορώ να περιγράψω αυτή την υπέροχη αίσθηση που μου δημιούργησε. Με αυτήν ως οδηγό περιπλανόμαστε στην υπέροχη πόλη της Αλεξάνδρειας, ζούμε τον αισθησιασμό της ανατολής με το ρυθμό που επιβάλλει ο καυτός ήλιος της Αιγύπτου, βλέπουμε αυτή τη σύνθεση των πολιτισμών που εκπροσωπούνται από τους παλιούς και τους νέους κατοίκους της που έρχονται από την Ευρώπη και στο τέλος παρακολουθούμε τις σημαντικές εξελίξεις που δεν μπορούσαν να μην επηρεάσουν μία πόλη που πάντα απολάμβανε το μυστηριώδες.

Όσο για την ιστορία που μας αφηγείται ο συγγραφέας, ίσως δεν έχει και τόσο μεγάλη σημασία, δεν την παρακολουθούμε εξάλλου με κάποια λογική σειρά αλλά με έναν τρόπο μπερδεμένο και ακαθόριστο, πηγαίνοντας από την αρχή στο τέλος και στα διάφορα στάδια της ιστορίας σχεδόν τυχαία, ακολουθώντας τις σκέψεις του συγγραφέα. Έτσι παρακολουθούμε τους διάφορους χαρακτήρες σε διάφορα επεισόδια της ζωής τους, σε μικρές και μεγάλες στιγμές τους, στις σκέψεις και τα συναισθήματά τους, σε όλα αυτά που αποκαλύπτουν πώς βιώνουν με το σώμα και την ψυχή αυτά που τους προσφέρει η πόλη της Αλεξάνδρειας. Όλοι αυτοί οι χαρακτήρες έχουν κάτι το μοναδικό και ιδιαίτερο και αυτή η σύνθεση των ιστοριών τους δημιουργεί ένα αποτέλεσμα που συνοψίζει τη γοητεία εκείνης της εποχής, όπως την αντιλαμβάνονταν ο συγγραφέας.

Τέσσερα υπέροχα βιβλία που προσφέρουν ένα ιδιαίτερα όμορφο λογοτεχνικό ταξίδι που οι φτωχές μου ικανότητες μάλλον δεν επαρκούν για να το περιγράψω με έναν τρόπο που του αρμόζει. Ίσως σε κάποιες από τις επόμενες μου επισκέψεις σε αυτό το μοναδικό έργο μπορέσω να προσθέσω κάτι περισσότερο, μέχρι τότε το μόνο που μπορώ να πω είναι ότι είναι μία συλλογή βιβλίων που πρέπει να διαβαστεί από όλους όσους απολαμβάνουν την ουσία της λογοτεχνίας.
Profile Image for AC.
1,669 reviews
November 10, 2019
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 second-order writer who surpassed himself in (parts of) the Alexandria Quartet.

Original review from 2013 — when I had no idea what I was talking about or of what I had just read:

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... and yet..., and yet...
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 19 books87.7k followers
March 5, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Nick Craske.
120 reviews177 followers
July 29, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,466 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2018
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" comme étant une des plus grandes œuvres sinon la plus grande de la littérature anglaise du vingtième siècle. Sa cote s'est beaucoup baissée depuis probablement parce que l'on avait constaté que son manque de rectitude politique. "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est profondément phallocrate, impérialiste, conservatrice et islamophobe. Malgré tout, c'est un témoignage très important de son époque.

"Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" présente quatre grand thèmes:
1. Dieu a crée le monde par accident ce qui est une doctrine gnostique
2. le suprême bien c'est la jouissance
3. il est impossible de percevoir la réalité ambiante en entier
4. l'abandon des chrétiens et juifs au moyen orient par la Grande Bretagne et la France après la deuxième grande guerre mondiale est une honte énorme

Écrit immédiatement après la crise de Suez de 1956, "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est un thriller qui relate l'histoire d'un complot Copte qui fournit des armes aux rebelles juifs de la Palestine. Les événements se déroulent essentiellement entre 1930 et 1945. Les protagonistes sont en majeur partie des artistes bohémiennes, des coptes riches, et des diplomates britanniques.

Un nombre important des personnages sont aussi des cabalistes et des gnostiques. La découverte près de Louxor en 1945 de la Bibliothèque de Nag Hammadi (un ensemble des documents gnostiques du IVe siècle) a suscité chez Durrell un fort intérêt pour le Gnosticisme.
Le mélange de la politique et de la religion ésotérique dans "Le quatuor d'Alexandrie" est tout à fait hallucinante. Tôt ou tard le lecteur tombe sous le charme intoxicant de l'œuvre.

En lisant les autres critiques sur GR, j'ai l'impression que la plupart des lecteurs préfèrent ne pas voir le leitmotiv sadique du "Quatuor" qui est néanmoins très fort. Durrell, comme Sade, semble croire que le bonheur humain exige que la femme réponde aux désirs de l'homme et qu'elle participe sans réserves dans ses fétichismes sexuels. Aux yeux de Durrell, la vocation naturelle des femmes n'est pas la maternité; c'est de plaire aux hommes.

Avec tant d'accouplements, les accidents de parcours sont inévitables; c'est-à-dire, il y a des enfants qui naissent. Malheureusement, Durrell ne sait pas comment intégrer des personnages qui sont des enfants dans ses intrigues. Ses enfants font des apparences de temps en autre mais Durrell finit toujours par les supprimer avec des maladies ou avec des accidents. Clea qui est le personnage féminin le plus sage du "Quatuor" choisit d'avorter ce qui est la décision la plus raisonnable dans le monde pervers de Durrell. Je suis en fin de compte très mal à l'aise avec la manière dont Durrell voit l'amour et la vie humaine.

Un aspect du "Quatuor" que j'ai beacoup du mal à comprendre c'est le manque d'intérêt chez les personnages pour la deuxième grande mondiale. Ils trouvent seulement que la guerre dérange leurs routines. Même quand l'armée allemande est à El Alamein à cent-dix kilomètres à l'ouest d'Alexandrie, la guerre leur semble être indifférente. L'explication la plus probable est que Durrell croyait que la deuxième grande guerre étaient essentiellement une guerre européenne qui a débordé ses frontières pour court période et n'a jamais occupé une place important dans la vie des ses personnages. Pourtant je ne peux pas en être certain. L'attitude des personnages du "Quatuor" vis-à-vis de la deuxième grande mondiale demeure pour moi un énigme. Il faut reconnaitre cependant que c'est un livre bourré d'énigmes. C'est à lire pour tous ceux qui s'intéressent à l'histoire du moyen orient au vingtième siècle.
Profile Image for Sean Gainford.
29 reviews20 followers
August 11, 2009
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 was the great winepress of love; those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets - I mean all who have bee deeply wounded in the sex.'

'Empty cadences of sea-water licking its own wounds, sulking along the mouths of the delta, boiling upon those deserted beaches - empty, forever empty under the gulls: white scribble on the grey, munched by clouds. If there are ever sails here they die before the land shadows them. Wreckage washed up on the pediments of islands, the last crust, eroded by the weather, stuck in the blue maw of water ... gone!'

'Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold - the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to invade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential - the imagination.'

'Days became simply the spaces between dreams, spaces between the shifting floors of time, of acting, of living out the topical ... a tide of meaningless affairs nosing along the dead level of things, entering no climate, leading us nowhere, demanding of us nothing save the impossible - that we should be. Justine would say that we had been trapped in the projection of a will too powerful and too deliberate to be human - the gravitational field which Alexandria threw down about those it had chosen as its exemplars ...'

This book goes on and on like this. Supposedly this Lawrence Durrell fellow was not a very good poet. So it seems like he wrote a novel instead, however this was only a disguise, for he has infiltrated his bad poetry into his novel. Then readers would be tricked, thinking they were reading a novel but really they were just reading his bad poetry again. I'm not fooled though. I see his bad poetry, and now see his bad prose.

I refuse to read more then twenty pages of this book, and even that was too much.

A pretentious piece of work.
Profile Image for merixien.
543 reviews281 followers
May 22, 2022
İskenderiye Dörtlüsü uzun zamandır baskısı beklenen bir seriydi. Hazır Can Yayınları çok güzel kapaklarla yeni baskısının müjdesini vermişken ben de kitap hakkındaki düşüncelerimi paylaşayım dedim.

Kitap İkinci Dünya Savaşı öncesinde Iskenderiye’de bir grup insan arasındaki ilişkileri, dönemin siyasi ortamına etkilerini ve birbirlerinde sakladıkları sırları ele alıyor. Kitabı ise bütün bu süreçte iki kadın karakter ile ilişki yaşayan ve bunlardan birisinin kızıyla Kıbrıs’ta kendini izole edip olayları yazmaya karar veren Darley’nin anlatısından takip ediyoruz. Dört cilt boyunca aynı gerçekliğin -görelilik gibi- farklı karakterlerin perspektifinden nasıl olduğunu görüyorsunuz. O yüzden bağımsız okunabilece ya da bir- iki kitapta sırrı çözülemediğinden kenara bırakılabilecek serilerden birisi değil. Özellikle ilk üç kitapta zaman kavramı tamamen kayıp durumda, olayların hangilerinin önce olduğunu, hangisinin diğerine sebep olduğunu ancak ayrıntılara dikkat ederseniz takip edebiliyorsunuz. Dördüncü kitap ise bütün olayların sıralamasının, tarihinin ortaya çıktığı çözüm anahtarı tadında. Seriyi bu kadar özel yapan detaylardan birisi bu zaten. Okumanız boyunca asla güvenli bir zeminde değilsiniz, tutarlı bir hikayeyi da sınırları belli karakterler yok, önünüze serilen olayların arasında hep bir sis var gibi hissediyorsunuz. Zaman zaman -ki bence gereksiz bir şekilde- Kayıp Zamanın İzinde serisi ile çok kıyaslanan ve benzer bulunuyor ama bence birbirlerinden çok uzaklar. Çünkü böyle küçük bir grubun arasındaki ilişkileri bu kadar birbirine sarılı olmasına karşın, bu kadar gizemli ( her bir ciltte tekrar açılan bir katmanla) anlatması açısından çok farklı bir konumda. Dili biraz cinsiyetçi - maalesef- biraz da dönemine göre bir klasik okur gibi süslü ve betimlemelerle dolu gelebilir. Ancak okuduktan sonra tekrar dönüp okuma isteği uyandıran, savaş dönemi sıradan bir aşk hikayesi kategorisinde başyapıt seviyesine çıkaran da bu dil tercihi aynı zamanda. Zira ben kışın okumama rağmen, İskenderiye’nin o basık, kum kokan boğuk sıcağını- iklimini, sokaklarının kokusunu hissedebildim. Eğer size ikliminizi dahi değiştirebilen, güçlü bir metin okumak istiyorsanız mutlaka bu serisi alın. Tek tavsiyem, zamana yayarak okumanız, yoksa bunaltıcı ve ayrıntıların kaybolduğu bir okuma olabilir.

Bu dörtlüye dair söyleyeceğim son şey, hangi kitabı okusanız o seri içinde favoriniz oluyor ancak bütün hikaye tamamlandığında benim için Justine ve Clea en güzelleri oldu.
Profile Image for Max.
341 reviews298 followers
February 18, 2013
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?”

The novel draws you in, creating mysteries and then unraveling them as the story is repeated and embellished from different viewpoints. We see how reality changes from each person’s perspective based on their motives, context and sense of self. Durrell sums it up succinctly, “If two or more explanations of a single human action are as good as each other then what does action mean but an illusion.”

The story focuses on romantic love and questions how much we see what we want, simply project our feelings onto others and make relationships fit into our own sense of time and place. It makes us wonder how much we can ultimately trust our own judgment. Durrell’s powerful presentation had me looking back over my life.

Unfortunately, deriving these benefits requires sifting through the chaff. The four novels add up to a lot of reading. They go back and forth in time and are interspersed with large descriptive sections of text that can be excellent but can also be overly long, repetitive and sometimes inane.

Perhaps the book itself was like a love relationship that while intriguing and fulfilling could also become tedious and tiring. Recommended for the patient reader, particularly those who are interested in the psychology of romance and who would enjoy the exotic setting of the 1930-40’s melting pot of Alexandria Egypt and its diverse characters.
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