The acclaimed first novel of the Alexandria Quartet, and the celebrated story of an all-consuming love transcending time and place
Set in Alexandria, Egypt, in the years between World Wars I and II, Justine is the first installment in the distinguished Alexandria Quartet. Here Lawrence Durrell crafts an exquisite and challenging modern novel that explores tragic love and the fluidity of recollection. Employing a fluctuating narrative and poetic prose, Durrell recounts his unnamed narrator’s all-encompassing romance with the intoxicating Justine. The result is a matchless work that confronts all we understand and believe about sexual desire, identity, place, and the certainty of time. This ebook contains a new introduction by Jan Morris.
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Darley, Durrell's 1st person narrator, wrote parenthetically, "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."
Durrell produced a plot line that resists singular--or merely chronological--point of view. Darley drafts, so to speak, a kaleidoscopic series of narrative pieces that at first glance jump out like a jigsaw begging for attention--manuscript pages thrown in disarray, cut apart, and then stuck together with asterisk-like symbols in the gaps. An underlying pursuit to fit these pieces together in the right order exhibits Darley's emergence from an inexperience state ("I have come here to heal myself,") to utter loss of closure in disrobing it--his self-spoken analyses of events inspire even Alexendria's glowworms to stare back in arousal! See also Darley's translation of " The City " as prepared for Clea in "CONSEQUENTIAL DATA". Cavafy's " The Afternoon Sun " is key for chasing the golden thread that meanders through AQ (special thanks to Roger Bowen for that handout).
Darley's insights (& omissions) get "cross-hatched" across the AQ. Other characters' views raise questions about his first draft's premises--Durrell raising the bar for his post-modern successors. Durrell's form confronted a vogue writing-style of a bygone era, "...for the purposes of this writing, has he ceased to exist; he has simply stepped into the quicksilver of a mirror as we all must--to leave our illnesses, our evil acts, the hornets' nest of our desires, still operative for good or evil in the real world--which is the memory of our friends."
"Justine" by Lawrence Durrell is a story of forbidden love, secrets and memories. It takes place in Alexandria and is told retrospectively by an unnamed narrator who is also the former lover of the eponymous character Justine. The novel's strongest suit is its descriptions of Alexandria and its denizens.
Despite the tumultuous backdrop that many would find unsavory, there is an overwhelming theme of love and sensuality in "Justine." Durrell's Alexandria, well anyone's Alexandria, is a hot, dusty and old place that historically lent itself to romance, but the narrator himself says that the Hellenic romances of Alexandria's past are not apparent in his version of Alexandria. The love recited in his telling is of a much less mythical Alexandria, but the stories are no less tragic.
The pages of "Justine" are dotted with exclamations to the people of the narrator's past. Melissa! Justine! He frequently exclaims in the first pages of the novel. The reader gets a real sense of the man's feelings for his lost acquaintances, but the chronology of the story does not lend itself to a thorough understanding of the events taking place. The narrator does not tell the story as it happened, nor does he mention when each event takes place, so the reader must rely on imagination to put the events in some order. One could say that it is a fault of the novel, but this mechanism has been used by Durrell and other influential authors to much success.
Lawrence Durrell's wordplay in "Justine" borders on the poetic. He had a magnificent grasp of English vocabulary and reading the novel is a delightful experience, if only just to experience Durrell's moving descriptions. It left me wanting to read the rest of the Alexandria quartet, of which "Justine" is the first volume.