The Alexandria Quartet
By Lawrence Durell
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The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durell ranked # 70 on The Modern Library's Top 100 Novels list as selected by its Board Members.
The Alexandria Quartet is a tetralogy of novels by British writer Lawrence Durrell, published between 1957 and 1960. A critical and commercial success, the books present four perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II.
As Durrell explains in his preface to Balthazar, the four novels are an exploration of relativity and the notions of continuum and subject-object relation, with modern love as the subject. The Quartet could be seen as operating in a similar manner as Rashomon in that it offers the same sequence of situations to us through the points of view of several different people. It carries the concept further by allowing individual perspectives to change over the course of time.
The four novels are:
- Justine (1957)
- Balthazar (1958)
- Mountolive (1958)
- Clea (1960)
In a 1959 Paris Review interview, Durrell described the ideas behind the Quartet in terms of a convergence of Eastern and Western metaphysics, based on Einstein's overturning of the old view of the material universe, and Freud's doing the same for the concept of stable personalities, yielding a new concept of reality. For all the novels' experiments with chronology and viewpoint, for many readers the appeal lies in the luxurious beauty of the writing. Though often dismissed as pretentious, it is difficult to find writing that so prodigiously and intricately recreates atmosphere, place and fleeting emotion with such style.
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