13Feb

Lawrence Durrell Centenary

It’s not just Charles Dickens who is having a party this year. So is Lawrence Durrell, author of my favourite series of novels, The Alexandria Quartet, a brilliant, metaphysical classic of the 1950s.

The books follow a group of individuals based in Alexandria, Egypt, up to and including the Second World War. That’s about as general as one can really get, as it covers a huge number of themes – sexual and political tension, a whole wealth of the region’s history, religion and philosophy – and Durrell wraps these in momentous descriptions of characters, place and time.

Each novel in the series undermines the previous one; minor characters suddenly become the focal point, giving the reader a completely different understanding on what went before. Every paragraph is breathtaking.

A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants…

These are the moments which are not calculable, and cannot be assessed in words; they live on in the solution of memory, like wonderful creatures, unique of their own kind, dredged up from the floors of some unexplored ocean…

Brother Ass, the so-called act of living is really an act of the imagination. The world—which we always visualize as ‘the outside’ World—yields only to self-exploration! Faced by this cruel, yet necessary paradox, the poet finds himself growing gills and a tail, the better to swim against the currents of unenlightenment…

The Guardian recently featured a podcast on Durrell, which is well worth your time, and if you’ve not read The Alexandria Quartet, you really should. It is Durrell’s centenary after all.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

7 comments

  1. Durrell is underrated, and wonderful,

    The structure of the four novels really makes it all work. Lots of authors should pay attention to what he does, how, and why.

  2. Great to see your several posts on the Quartet!

    Please do plan on joining us in London in June for the Durrell Centenary.  All welcome!

    All info and updates here:

    DURRELL 2012 :: THE LAWRENCE DURRELL CENTENARY 
    —-
    13 JUNE 2012 – 16 JUNE 2012
    —-
    :: GOODENOUGH COLLEGE :: LONDON
    —-
    :: THE BRITISH LIBRARY :: LONDON

    http://durrell2012.com/

  3. And let me encourage interested readers of the Quartet to post comments here at the Guardian Books Podcast.

    Your feedback will help Sam Jordison to guide the Reading Group for the Quartet, scheduled for March 2012.

    Let Sam know you are interested.  Post early, and post often!
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2012/feb/10/lawrence-durrell-100-podcast?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9037&#start-of-comments

  4. This was a great discovery when I read it my teens. For me, Durrell was one of those authors who opened a door to a new world with his writing. I didn’t know it was his centenary ; I think I’ll schedule a re-reading for the summer (I can’t help associating some authors with a specific season and Durrell has undoubtedly a summer “rasa”).

  5. I was mesmerised by what he did. Learnt a lot from that.  

  6. No problem at all, and thanks for posting the dates! It sounds like something I’ll certainly try to get to. 

  7. I’ve been re-reading snippets of JUSTINE these past few months. I can just dip in and out of the book, happy to read a page at a time – even out of context it’s beautiful.