The Alexandria Quartet: inedible | Bleader

The Alexandria Quartet: inedible



Like a sinus being ground to powder
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  • Durrell's muses: Pomposity, Meretricia, and Sibyl
"Like a sinus being ground to powder" writes Lawrence Durrell in a typically overreaching description taken from Justine, the first volume of his "Alexandria Quartet." And his late-50s tetralogy is indeed as painful as a sinus infection. The Guardian's John Crace might have summed it up best in his parody of the work:

The child and I are alone. I have not named it yet, though it will, of course, be Justine. I am neither happy nor unhappy: just poetically distrait. . . . And what of Justine? Was she trapped in a projection of a will too powerful which Alexandria threw down? And ought I to get out more?

Per Wikipedia—invaluable when it comes to the unreadable—Durrell described the ideas behind these hundreds upon hundreds of pages as "an exploration of relativity and the notions of continuum and subject—object relation, with modern love as the theme."

Whatever. At least I'm not alone. Some critics "assert that Durrell is a pompous charlatan," says George Steiner, who counts himself among his admirers. But that assessment's from a book subtitled "Language, Literature, and the Inhuman."

Jan Morris regards haters of "The Alexandria Quartet" with more sympathy:

As has generally been admitted, it is often ornate and over-written, sometimes to an almost comical degree. The high ambition of its schema can make its narratives and characters inexplicably confusing, and its virtuoso use of vocabulary can be trying ('pudicity'? 'noetic'? 'fatidic'? 'scry'?).

I've read (with pleasure!) Faulkner, Proust, James, and Joyce (though not Finnegan's Wake). I've plowed through Moby-Dick and Pamela. But this book defeated me. Should you attempt it, I scry another copy hurtling through the air.