I Say Quartet, You Say Tetralogy…

11 Feb

The events in Egypt have virtually nothing to do with Lawrence Durrell’s foursome of novels, Justine, Balthazar , Mountolive and Clea, published between 1957 and 1960 and known collectively as the Alexandria Quartet. On the other hand, the current connection, cultural or cable with Egypt, is presently in the hands of a herd of journalist poseurs with a smattering of that endangered species known as foreign correspondent. My knowledge of Egypt extends to Om Kalsoum, Nahgib Mafouz, Hamza El Din, the Asswan Dam and the Suez Crisis of 1956 —so it is with the confidence that my expertise and familiarity with Egypt bestows, that I recommend Durrell’s atmospheric tetralogy.

Durrell, who died in 1990 is famously recorded as having said ,”I must confess I have enjoyed nothing in my life. I’ve been bored ever since I crawled out of my mother’s womb.’ Nonetheless, I find Durrell and his work to be fascinating and controversial subjects, raising such questions such as one writer poses, ” Was Durrell, as Henry Miller once wrote, ”a stinking genius”? Or should we put the novels away and enjoy a handful of memorable poems and three marvelous travel books about Greek islands?

“Stinking genius?”

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2 Responses to “I Say Quartet, You Say Tetralogy…”

  1. Edward Champion February 15, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    I believe it was Terry Teachout who said that the Alexandria Quartet can only be read as a young man. I read half of it as a young man and loved what I read. Looking forward to #70 in my Modern Library silliness when I’ll be able to determine if Terry’s maxim is true. What say you Red?

    • robertbirnbaum February 16, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      While I have hardly agreed with Teachout about anything, it is probably true that the crucible of failed loves that accompany youthful years makes the Quartet more poignant and impressive. However even if he were correct that doesn’t make Durrell’s magnum opi (opuses) dismissible. Many things are not even worth reading once.

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