8Dec

The Alexandria Quartet—Thoughts

This isn’t going to be a coherent review, because, for me, it wouldn’t suit the book. The Alexandria Quartet comprises of four novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. The first two are the most tightly linked, for everything you know in Justine is looked at from another angle, although still from the same narrator. Mountolive is more distant, and Clea certainly moves the three novels forward in time. But, as Durrell intended, they are all meant to be read as one.

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 I can get. There is sexual tension, and release; political tension that gathers throughout the story arc; there’s a whole wealth of Middle Eastern history. There’s religion and philosophy. There are momentous descriptions of place and time. The characters are the most complex and layered in any kind of fiction that I’ve read. From our often naive narrator, Darley, who is not really an ‘unreliable narrator’ because we have no reason not to rely on him. Then, the seductive and outrageous Justine, and her husband, the dark-hearted Nassim. There’s Pursewarden, who is one of the greatest fictional creations, layered with metaphor, representation of art, a dose of wit, and some incredible aphorisms. Perhaps my favourite character in any book, even when he wasn’t on the page. There are more, but a sentence here would to no justice.

I am in awe of Durrell for so many reasons. Firstly, for his experimental approach. For showing the relativity in his narrative, and how important that is to fiction—because it is real life. Not merely ‘point of view’, but showing us how one can never be certain of anything, in life or fiction. Secondly, the man brings alive Alexandria to be a character in her own right, a changing, liquid, grand place. (By the time you read Clea, the city has gone, as it was. A construction in the first place, only in words, when revisited after many years, it just isn’t the same place. It isn’t the same character.) Third, is his ability to carve a character to be just as unreliable as real life. In fact, more than any other novel, I was thinking, Here is the truest representation of existence.

This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m just gushing thoughts onto the page. Maybe I can’t really summarise it. Maybe, you just can’t? There are faults, perhaps. Some of the passages of text can make you sweat with their headiness. But that’s an aside. There’s so much to discover here. A history, a philosophy, a poem. I’m using very grand phrases, but you can’t do anything specific with a book like this.

Just get it. Read it. Take your time and enjoy it luxuriously. Feel the dust of those Alexandrian streets. Feel that warm air blowing off the ocean. Hear the palms fizzing in the breeze. Durrell will show you the rest, but go at his pace.

As a side note, when playing with Technorati, to see who else comments on Durrell, it was nice to see how these books stir up thoughts in those who can put things more eloquently than I can.

3Dec

Pursewarden Writes

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.

 —Lawrence Durrell, Clea

27Nov

Lawrence Durrell, Some Thoughts

I’m currently working through one of the most pleasurable reading experiences of recent times. (This year has been a good year of reading for me.) Durrell is a phenomenal talent. He makes you pine for an age you never knew, as much for the quality of writing if nothing else. His ability to bring character and place alive are unchallenged. A thoroughly de-constructive narrative, too, the kind of thing to destroy the formula of a novel and rebuild it, brick by brick. And he often delivers some punching sentences.

  • ‘A city becomes a world when one loves one of it’s inhabitants.’
  • ‘There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.’
  • ‘A woman’s best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.’

I wish I’d jotted more down as I’d gone through. I shall put down a more thoughtful review—if it’s possible with such a text—in the coming weeks.

24Nov

Notes From Nowhere

  • A dark valley that retains a near perfect stillness against the quick-moving clouds.
  • Winter has stripped the land of any dignity.
  • A lattice of dry-stone wall across the hills.
  • Drizzle, gathering in huge drops; poised beneath strips of fencing, and from the tips of trees.
  • Disused barns, or sheds, or storehouses, their roof tiles blighted by lichens, nature reclaiming it.
  • The stark cry of a bird.
  • On the hillside: headlights from a car navigating the awkward terrain. You feel suddenly vulnerable at this invasion of the stillness.
  • The tops of hills surrendered to the clouds.
  • Silhouettes of trees expose birds’ nests.
  • A chill and loud wind.
15Nov

John Martyn, Small Hours, 1978

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLVM560Fok&rel=1]

Folk pioneer, doing what he does best. I was lucky enough to see him play live a few year back, with bass legend Danny Thompson.

15Nov

Motivation, please

Read this and it’s taken me a while to form any thoughts on the matter.

So are people really telling you that a life is a wilderness unless it includes a career in epic fantasy ? That seems to me to sum up the self-absorption of the genre… You ask me what you should do next. That’s in your hands. You’re what, early-to-mid-20s ? How much money do you want ? If you want real money, you don’t work in writing: you work in money. It’s not too late to start again. Or maybe you should write about money. Maybe you should write the fantasy of money!

Sadly, this is kind of true for the time being. For me, a mid-20s chap who works in publishing and knows this, and writes fantasy that is off the beaten track, it’s a little depressing. I give it about 5 years before the industry permits more experimental stuff, more indies coming into the game, but in the meantime, where’s the motivation to be more innovative, assuming one wants to write experimental fantasy? And who said commercial publishing is about innovation?

I’m a huge fan of MJH, to an unhealthy point, but I wonder, who would publish the Viriconium level stories today? Are audiences up for it? Were they at the time?

There’ll be plenty of free dinners for those young writers who want to be very different.

11Nov

Savernake Forest, Wiltshire

Savernake Forest, just outside of Marlborough. November. The colour becomes intense, the light always more hazy because of the height of the sun. What a combination.

Wind runs through channels here, along the straight paths, gathering momentum, and it dominates your stride. Surprisingly, there is next to no one around; you would have thought better of people, especially at this time of year.

Some trees have given up their leaves early. Others hang on to them, greedy, still green and there is an air or arrogance about them. It’s usually the bigger ones, the rare species of oak.

The carnage is heaped everywhere, a thousand shades between red and green as if the land is flooded with them. A freak Autumn tide. A dog runs by, followed by a couple of pups. The whole family are out, bursting into bushes, tearing up the leaves. If it wasn’t for your dignity, you’d be joining them.

You appreciate the cycles of the earth a little more now. You think maybe there’s something inherently spiritual about the landscape in the south west. Maybe the druids are on to something. The city doesn’t look so big any more.