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The Alexandria Quartet (Alexandria Quartet #1-4)

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  9,810 Ratings  ·  356 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 1960)
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Lisa I read them 25 years ago and regularly recommend them to other readers and think of them as the ultimate lesson in point of view. I intend to reread…moreI read them 25 years ago and regularly recommend them to other readers and think of them as the ultimate lesson in point of view. I intend to reread them soon.(less)

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John Brooks
Oct 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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

"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
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
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
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Scribble Orca
Oct 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
John Vibber
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
The most beautifully written books I have ever read.
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
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 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  ·  review of another edition
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
Sean Gainford
Aug 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Marius Hancu
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Beautiful, eloquent, haunting, airy, meditative, suave, cosmopolitan, transcendent, poetic, romantic, pessimistic, ruminative, opaque, mournful, tender, modern, erotic, imaginative, masterful, magnificent!
Jan Němec
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Představte si, že by postavy z knih stárly. Valná většina literatury 20. století by dnes byla záležitostí starobních důchodců. Malý princ s šedivými kučerami by se belhal po poušti s vypelichaným exemplářem lišky, Florentino Ariza z Lásky za časů cholery by to už musel mít za sebou a možná že i Oskar Matzerath by za ty roky o pár centimetrů povyrostl a do svého bubínku by už nemlátil s takovou vervou. S tím vším bych se ještě nějak smířil, ale kdyby zestárla Justina, Darley, Melissa nebo Nessim, ...more
Keith Miller
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Brent Hayward
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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
Guy Cranswick
Sep 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is bad writing dressed up as lamb. It's pompous and pseudo psychological nonsense is funny and grating. The long winded images and metaphors are a lesson in what not to do.
Jan 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is hard to imagine a novel in the English language published in the last 60 year that comes even knee high to Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet. It is at once a psychological thriller, an exploration into the human heart ("Tell me who it was who invented the human heart," Justine asks, "and show me the tree where he was hanged.") It is involving, hysterically funny, and often frightening. Though I have no patience with the so-called "occult," there are a couple of supernatural passages in Alex ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
From the Frontspiece: Durrell's wartime sojourn in Egypt led to this masterpiece which he completed in Southern France, where he settled permanently in 1957.

#1 Justine 4*

Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria villa faces demolition
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Lawrence George Durrell was a critically hailed and beloved novelist, poet, humorist, and travel writer best known for The Alexandria Quartet novels, which were ranked by the Modern Library as among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century. A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, Durrell’s prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet, whose ...more
More about Lawrence Durrell...

Other Books in the Series

Alexandria Quartet (4 books)
  • Justine (The Alexandria Quartet #1)
  • Balthazar (The Alexandria Quartet #2)
  • Mountolive (The Alexandria Quartet #3)
  • Clea (The Alexandria Quartet #4)

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