Item description for Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, 4) by Lawrence Durrell...
In the final volume of the "Alexandrian Quartet", Darley returns to Alexandria now caught by war-fever. The conflagration has its effect on his circle - on Nessim and Justine, Balthazar and Clea, Mountolive and Pombal. The story is supplemented by music from Debussy, Ravel, Britten and Piazzola.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, 4)?
Incestuous Jun 24, 2008
Lawrence Durrell set himself a huge challenge in his ALEXANDRIA QUARTET: three volumes looking at the same events from different angles, and a fourth that would extend the story forward in time; he intended it as an analogy to the three dimensions of space and the one of time. I had found it a little difficult to get into the first volume, JUSTINE, because the combination of the almost incestuous doings of a cosmopolitan coterie in Alexandria in the late 1930s, coupled with Durrell's perfumed prose, was too exotic a cocktail for me at first. But by the end of the first volume, I was wanting more, and read its successors, BALTHAZAR and especially MOUNTOLIVE, with increasing enjoyment. There only remained this fourth novel, CLEA, to complete the story and make a fitting capstone to the whole impressive edifice. Unfortunately, I feel it fails to live up to the challenge.
After the clarity of the third-person narrative of MOUNTOLIVE, it was a shock to return to the author's own voice once again -- or rather that of Darley, as the writer calls himself in the novels. Durrell still writes well; there is a marvelous set piece early in the book when he approaches Alexandria during a wartime blackout, only to have it suddenly appear out of the darkness in the flare of searchlights, tracer bullets, and incendiary bombs. But I found myself resisting the cloying atmosphere and verbal navel-gazing that I had thought were a thing of the past. I am sure this is deliberate, though; when Darley again meets Justine, his siren from the first novel, she has spilt a bottle of perfume over herself, and the entire encounter is bathed in its almost nauseating aroma. The scene is a pair for the one at the end of MOUNTOLIVE when David finally sees Leila again; Durrell's characters, it seems, cannot just revisit former loves and part as friends; there needs to be an additional twist of the knife as well.
For the most part, the promise to carry the story forward in time takes the form of "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" I am reminded of sitting in on my mother's tea-parties as a child, hearing her catch up with news of old friends from school or college days, people that meant nothing to me. True, we have met all these characters in the earlier books, but MOUNTOLIVE in particular has brought them into the light of the real world; I am no longer interested in re-entering the darkness of their self-obsessions. And so many of this catching-up is handled obliquely: we hear stories passed on by a third person; we read long confessional letters; no less than three separate people, apparently endowed with the power of ventriloquism, give imitations of the dead Scobie, telling tall stories in his voice. Only a very few characters are allowed to speak directly of their experiences, and remarkably little happens in this book that is new -- though when something does, in the swimming party near the end, Durrell at least equals the exciting climaxes of his other novels.
Durrell said that he wanted to explore the many varieties of love. As though to swell the catalogue, MOUNTOLIVE has a brief mention of incest, which is picked up again here. Not in much detail or with any prurience (or very believably either), but that is relatively unimportant. For it is a perfect symbol for a book that is itself incestuous. There is a long excursus in the middle of the book ostensibly taken from the journals of the novelist Pursewarden, in which he describes his impressions of Darley. From the beginning, I felt that this figure was introduced as a slightly comic alter ego for the writer, and indeed he propounds many of the theories that Durrell himself attempts in the QUARTET. MOUNTOLIVE achieves the feat of pulling Pursewarden out of comedy and giving him true stature as an individual. But the Darley of CLEA returns to a lesser avatar of Pursewarden, as a kind of fun-house mirror for himself. So we have a thirty-page passage of one writer dissecting another, both alter-egos of the author. How's that for navel-gazing? What is it if not incestuous?
It is incestuous, too, for an author to manipulate his characters instead of letting the story be driven by their personalities; there is an arbitrary quality to most of the resolutions here. Even the central relationship between Darley and Clea seems to come about too easily, rather than as the product of the interplay of personalities revealed in this novel; and when the relationship later encounters difficulty, that too is largely arbitrary and unexplained. As for the rest, it is as though Durrell lined up his characters like pieces on a board, saying "Let's see, who have I not yet paired with whom?" Indeed, in an appendix entitled "Workpoints," Durrell offers further character combinations that the reader can develop for himself if he cares to do so. The author, it seems, has become a mere gamesman. A pity, for this great undertaking had promised so much more.
no title Jan 18, 2006
I am numbed, bedazzled, and incredibly sad to have finished this exquisite world Durrell has created. Must rank with "Memoirs of Hadrian" by Marguarite Yourcenar, as one of the very best things I have ever read. Spellbinding is a good word, for his words truly weave a spell within the mind. "Clea", like all the rest, was stunning. Is there something about delta cities?
Art and love, intertwined May 3, 2001
Durrell further explores not only another love for Darley, but what art is and what it ought to be. Of course, descriptions are lush. One can almost hear hear the music of the closing festival and the beating of its drums.
Clea and Darley's relationship is embroidered over a wartime background. Durrell uses their beautiful private island experiences to echo and foreshadow the rise and fall of this relationship.
And we see how Clea develops as an artist. We are given Pursewarden's posthumous discourse on the philosophy of art. He gives is a lot to think about.
Sometimes I think that Durrell is Pursewarden, and then I wonder if he is making fun of himself in the Darley character. And in reality I find that I wish I could meet and know Durrell.
Clea is another must read.
Review of Clea: Book IV of "The Alexandria Quartet" Aug 10, 2000
What can one say about perfection? One does not just look at the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel as a great work of art but rather as perfection personified, merely mediated by paints and gilt. This book is exactly the same, its perfection is personified not by pigments and gold, but by ink and prose.
It is indeed rare that an artist pours their all into their work,but when it does occur, be it in the 9th Symphony of Beethoven or Kubrick's 2001, it is unilaterally hailed as a magnum opus.
Clea, in my opinion is just such a work. The way in which Durrell contrasts the blunt style of description with the uncompairable beauty of the subject matter pushes the book deeper into the sanctum sanctorum of literary perfection.
In thinking about this review, perfection seems too cold and metallic a word to be applied to such a beautiful work of art. There seems to be no word that accurately describes the flawless beauty of this book, but these are the limitations of language. Perhaps if I spoke Italian.
Clea by lawrence durrell Feb 14, 1999
heey, this is CLEA. I was named after this excellent book. I've read it thrice...it's cool!! I love it!