iUniverse loves the opportunity to re-illuminate writers which we hold in high esteem but who have fallen from fame. As iUniverse has said before, the academic literary establishment has caused many writers of merit to lose popularity. However, we take pride in making sure that excellent writers, who are enjoyable to read, are not forgotten.
Today we take a look at the writings of Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), an expatriate British novelist. Durrell first started writing in the 1930s, during the inter-War period, and continued writing through the 1980s. He was twice considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Durrell’s most famous work is The Alexandria Quartet – a tetralogy, or four-volume series of novels. The novels – Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea – tell one story but from four different perspectives. The tales take place in Alexandria, before and after World War II, and focus on a complex arrangement of romantic relationships.
There are several elements of Durrell as an author that are unique. The first is his “poetic” prose style. Durrell’s prose is extremely sensuous – nearly every sentence evokes a scent, color, sound, etc. His manner of expressing the language is creative, intelligent, and occasionally difficult to understand, but worth the effort. Through each narrator, we see the East-meets-West atmosphere of Alexandria come alive. It was a fascinating city at that time: exotic, multicultural, with the full spectrum from high elegance to low depravity.
Another aspect of the books is their non-linear prose style. Durrell’s Quartet narratives are not chronological, but jump between the past and the present. A reader often feels that the story is being told to him by a friend, in a very realistic and human fashion. The experimentation with four different perspectives also adds to the work’s complexity.
The combination of Durrell’s prose style, locations, non-linear action and different narrators results in the stories having a very “dream-like” quality. There is a slight haze over everything, but one which makes the reading process enjoyable and entertaining.
If you like The Alexandria Quartet, you’re in luck, as Durrell also wrote a five-volume series of novels called The Avignon Quintet. Durrell himself didn’t refer to it as a “quintet”, but as a “quincunx”!