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Justine (The Alexandria Quartet #1)
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1001 book reviews > Justine - Lawrence Durrell

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message 1: by Gail (last edited Sep 10, 2020 07:23PM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1272 comments Justine is the first book of Durrell's very popular Alexandria Quartet. Only this first book is included in 1001 books. The book was considered modernist at the time as it had a form that was loose in relationship to any chronology. Durrell mentions in the book that "we" might dispense with narrative articulation and get to drama freed from the burden of form. His narrator, who imagines himself capable of being a writer, says: "What I most need to do is to record experiences, not in the order in which they took place-for that is history-but in the order in which they first became significant for me".

Freed from a confining chronology, we are gifted with a view of a half dozen people with their loves, their complex desires, and their interwoven relationships. One of the main characters is the city of Alexandria itself in all its wonderful preWWII glory. A city of dust, sand and sea with secrets that everyone shares. We slowly get to know the city's rich neighborhoods, expat circle, the frightening back alleys of the penniless, and the cribs of the prostitutes. The city is without judgement and the book reflects this stance as love comes in many forms that are mentioned without fanfare or extreme drama. The extreme drama comes in with the primary love interests: Darley, our narrator, loves Melissa who loves Darley. Darley also love Justine who is married to Nessim who loves Justine. Justine says she loves Darley. Nessim and Melissa make love. And then there is Clea, who at one time loved Justine. As the narrator is not obliged to explain his own character, we are never exactly sure why Justine has any interest in Darley. He is not successful at either earthly affairs or his own inner workings, but evidently he has a strength that she is not able to steal. Durrell actually has a gift for unwinding a complicated plot so that we are captured and wanting to find out more. He writes in a very florid style that is not fashionable now and was not fashionable at the time he was writing. Reviewers mentioned that it was not his sex stories that were vulgar but his word usage. He often sent me to the dictionary even if I thought I knew the word....And yet there are times when he paints with broad strokes images of the city that are very compelling.
If one reads the other 3 books in the series, you find out that much of what you had been told in the first book was not trustworthy.
I first read this book in my teens when it opened my eyes to new words, new forms of love, and an exotic location and I would have given it 5 stars. In the reread there is some nostalgia for the reader I was then....but I gave it 4 stars.


message 2: by Kristel (last edited Sep 11, 2020 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kristel (kristelh) | 3964 comments Mod
Gail wrote: "I read and reviewed the Durrell book Justine. It needs its own category NOT de Sade"
Oh sorry. I guess I am confused. But I read the Justine book by Durrell. Not sure why that doesn't have a thread. Got to check into that tomorrow.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3964 comments Mod
Read this in 2018. Here is my review, Story is set in Alexandra, Egypt, pre world war II. The narrator is an Irish school teacher. It is a story of a love triangle, but also a story of Alexandra. The triangles are the 1) school teacher and his mistress, Melissa and Justine 2) Justine, Nessim, and the school teacher, and one could also add Melissa and Nessim bonded together against Justine and the school teacher. The story is more of character study that any plot. There is a bit of plot here and there. There is reference to an act of sexual abuse against Justine in her younger years. There is some espionage and there is the hunting scene. Mostly it is a character study with Alexandra as probably the main character. Durrell

Legacy: modernistic, prewar story of love, sex.
Style/structure: epiphany style of James Joyce. As the New Yorker article states; memory has free range, no formal attempt is made at structure or even at rendering the story easy to follow. It takes a great deal of work to read this relatively short work by page count. Durrell is a lyrist and each word seems to be purposely chosen, often requiring looking up (at least for me). Thank goodness for Kindle dictionary.

Sex is a big part of this book yet the author does not force a lot of detail on the reader but still it is enough to before and after details and it is used as cover up for espionage, personal sacrifice, neediness, and desire for power. (Foster). There really is no healthy sexual encounters in this book.

While this is a story where characters are described as Libertines and are on their own, as far as adulthood, it is also a story where the characters are coming to age. Melissa, Justine and our narrator.


Celia (cinbread19) | 127 comments Jacob Appel, a very good author, had this to say about the book.

"Justine" is not an easy book by any standard --the language is often baroque, the underlying ideas complex and challenging -- but it is one of those rare, brilliant novels that creates an entire self-contained universe.

I concur.


message 5: by Pip (last edited Nov 30, 2021 10:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1357 comments I first bought the Alexandrine Quartet years ago and was entranced by Durrell's florid descriptions of the city of Alexandria and the opaque descriptions of all kinds of sexual encounters. I listened again recently and was again drawn into the city and its mainly ex-pat characters. This time I intend to listen to the rest of the books in the series, which reveal, apparently, the same timeframe and characters, but from alternative perspectives. Durrell's writing is evocative but challenging. I enjoyed listening more than once to some of the passages. It was an encounter that I enjoyed repeating.


Book Wormy | 1932 comments Mod
I have read this for the first time and while I loved the use of language and the descriptions of Alexandria I didn't really connect with any of the characters too much angst and misplaced love going on for grown ups.

I do intend to read the rest of the quartet but probably won't rush out to do so.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3964 comments Mod
A book that received both criticism and praise and also apparently the quartet almost but not quite got the author a Nobel. I don't really have anything to add to my original review. I liked it more the first time, less this time.


Ginny | 74 comments I was unsure how to rate this book as I feel very indifferent towards it, I didn't hate it but I didn't find it very interesting either. I didn't mind the experimental style of writing and the way the narrative was very fluid and jumped time and place often with no rhyme or reason. But I did mind the fact that nothing very interesting was happening and I found non of the characters engaging or interesting. The plot, for what it was, didn't engage me as a reader and ultimately didn't lead anywhere. I am aware that this is part of a quartet of novels, but only this first one is on the 1001 list and on the back of it I won't be exploring the others.


Amanda Dawn | 992 comments I gave it 3 stars. Some beautiful and compelling prose, especially in generating the ambiance of the city. However, didn't get invested in the amoral affairs angle and did not substantially care about or was intrigued by any of the characters.


Diane Zwang | 1217 comments Mod
I agree with Ginny and felt the same way. I was not engaged with the story or characters. The lack of a plot didn't sit well with me either.


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