Monday, September 16, 2013

Excerpt from CLEA: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell is one of my favourite series of books.

Okay, mostly everything I have read is one of my favorites, yet The Alexandria Quartet stands out as something more than just books. Reading The Alexandria Quartet is like visiting an art museum on a rainy Saturday and there are only a handful of people around. The paintings are there to be admired, adored, scorned and questioned; such are my feelings for the main characters Justine, Nessim, Mountolive, Clea, Melissa, Pursewarden and Darley, our beloved narrator of the entire quartet. When I read Justine, the first book in the quartet, I wanted to purchase a copy for everyone I knew and force them to read it.

Of course, I did no such thing.

In being introduced to those characters, I felt as though I was a part of their "world" of art, sex, war, memories and blood. Even though reading the novels has taken some effort, as when I read Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time (I am now up to book three!), The Alexandria Quartet is worth it.

The books that make up the quartet are: Justine, Balthazaar, Mountolive and Clea.

Here is an excerpt from the last book, Clea:

"Yet the whole business became a little more real when the little caique which Nessim had sent fussed into the dusk-filled harbour that night, manned by three sullen-looking sailors armed with automatics. They were not Greek, though they spoke the tongue with waspish authority. They had tales to tell of shattered armies and death by frostbite, but in a sense it was already too late, for the wine had fuddled the wits of the old men. Their stories palled rapidly. Yet they impressed me, these three leather-faced specimens from an unknown civilization called 'war'. They sat uneasily in such good fellowship. The flesh was stretched tight over their unshaven cheek-bones as if from fatigue. They smoked gluttonously, gushing the blue smoke from mouth and nostrils like voluptuaries. When they yawned they seemed to fetch their yawns up from the very scrotum. We confided ourselves to their care with misgiving for they were the first unfriendly faces we had seen for a long time. At midnight we slipped our slantwise from the bay upon a high moonlight - the further darkness made more soft, more confiding, by the warm incoherent goodbyes which poured out across the white beaches towards us. How beautiful are the Greek words of greeting and farewell!"

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