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Sunday, September 30, 2018


AN EXCERPT From Lawrence Durrell's novel "Justine:"
“...Capitally, what is this city of ours?  What is resumed in the word Alexandria?  In a flash, my mind’s eye shows me a thousand dust-tormented streets.  Flies and beggars own it today—and those who enjoy an intermediate existence between either.

Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbor bar.  But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them...You would never mistake it for a happy place...I remember Nessim once saying—I think he was quoting—that 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 been deeply wounded in their sex.

Notes, for landscape tones...Long sequences of tempera, light filtered through the essence of lemons.  An air full of brick dust—sweet smelling brick-dust and the odour of hot pavements slaked with water.  Light damp clouds, earth-bound, yet seldom bringing rain.  Upon this squirt dust-red, dust-green chalk mauve and watered crimson lake.  In summer the sea damps lightly varnished the air.  Everything lay under a coat of gum.

And, then in autumn the dry, palpitant air, harsh with static electricity, inflaming the body through its light clothing.  The flesh coming alive, trying the bars of its prison...Was it in this that Antony heard the heart-numbing strains of the great music which persuaded him to surrender forever the city he loved?

The sulking bodies of the young begin to hunt for a fellow nakedness, and in those little cafes where Balthazar went so often with the old poet of the city, the boys stir uneasily at their backgammon under the petrol lamps; disturbed by this dry desert wind—so unromantic, so unconfiding—stir, and turn to watch every stranger.  They struggle for breath and in every summer kiss they can detect the taste of quicklime...”

The time is the eve of the Second World War. The place is Alexandria, an Egyptian city that once housed the world's greatest library and whose inhabitants are still dedicated to knowledge. But for the obsessed and purblind characters in this mesmerizing first novel of the Alexandria Quartet, the pursuit of knowledge leads to no library, only to the bedrooms in which each seeks to know - and possess - the other. Since its publication in 1957, "Justine" has inspired an almost religious devotion among readers and critics. It is not so much a book as it is a self-contained universe, constructed by one of the most elegant and formidably intelligent minds in contemporary fiction—Goodreads.

Durrell 1912-1990
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.—Goodreads.

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