Lawrence Durrell Discovery: The Alexandria Quartet

A little belated blog about some gems I picked up in Savidge Reads’ favourite 5 for £2 secondhand bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Actually they were a bit more expensive at £1 each from the classic literature section, but I couldn’t help myself as it was a full matching (ish) lot of 4 Faber books.

So here they are – The ‘Alexandria Quartet’ comprising Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960) by poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell.


The books didn’t have much of a blurb on the back and even a quick flick through didn’t really help me in figuring out what they were about, but I guess I was sort of drawn to the mysteriousness of them. Also, I noted that the prose at the beginning of the first book was quite beautiful;

“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…”

According to the bumpf on the Faber & Faber website, the Alexandria quartet is ‘an investigation of modern love’, exploring the sexual and political intrigues of a group of expatriates in Egypt before and during the Second World War. Each book tells essentially the same story from character different perspectives.

I have a suspicion that these might be a bit of a mission to read, but I’m looking forward to giving them a go and hopefully finding something special.

Has anyone read these novels? Are they beautiful literature or just plain odd?! Would love to hear any thoughts before I embark.

7 responses to “Lawrence Durrell Discovery: The Alexandria Quartet

  1. Now just to add something really helpful… I heard someone discussing Lawrence Durrell and I can't remeber if it was really good or really rubbish, I just know that it was extreme either way.

    Glad to see your still blogging when jobbing!

  2. The Alexandria Quartet is one of the great books of the twentieth century. Durrell's other books are wonderful too eg Bitter Lemons, Prospero's Cell, etc.
    If you want to read more about Durrell and Alexandria, see http://www.michaelhaag.com

  3. This is a brilliant find! Not read them myself, but as Michael points out, this is a highly regarded quartet and one I've wanted to read for a long time. I have a battered copy of Prospero's Cell in my reading queue.

    I read a fictionalised account of Durrell's life earlier this year, which you may be interested in: "Songs of Blue and Gold" by Deborah Lawrenson. My review is here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2009/01/songs-of-blue-and-gold-by-deborah-lawrenson.html

  4. Novel Insights

    I am indeed blogging while jogging – oops jobbing!

    Good to get some feedback, thanks Michael. Seemed like it might be a bit of a leap into the unknown so lovely to here what you think – I'll take a look at your site

    And Kimbofo that sound's interesting – sometimes it's good to read about the author beforehand to really get you absorbed in something so I'll keep my eyes peeled for that 🙂

  5. John Brumfield

    For what it's worth, if you Google "Alexandria Quartet" the Amazon site should appear at or near the top of the list of hits. They claim there are 63 comments by readers of the AQ.

  6. I think the Quartet can be kind of confusing without a little background knowledge. This might be one case where it is worth it to read a synopsis even if it means plot spoilers. If you are not interested in that, you should at least know that it is the same story from four different points of view. I spaced the reading of the four volumes over about 5 years so that didn’t really help my comprehension.

    Even though I must admit I was confused more than once while I read these books, I loved the feeling of Alexandria it evoked and liked that it was different than most books I read.

    And I love the edition you found. It is the same one that I have. I found three of them in one swoop, but then it was about 3 years later that I found the fourth one to complete my set. That was a great moment when I found that baby.

  7. Hi Thomas, really appreciate those pointers. I’m sort of working up to picking these up and I might take your advice and do a bit of background reading first to get an impression of the context. Oh and I can totally get your feeling about finding that final book to complete the set. That’s why I bought these – I thought, how likely is it that I’ll find a complete set like this again?

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