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Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, I)

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Item description for Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, I) by Lawrence Durrell & Nigel Anthony...

Set amid the corrupt glamour and multiplying intrigues of Alexandria in the 1930s and 1940s, the novels of Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet" (of which this is the first) follow the shifting alliances - sexual, cultural and political - of a group of quite varied characters.

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Item Specifications...

Format: Abridged,   Audiobook
Studio: Naxos Audiobooks
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.75" Height: 4.75"
Weight:   0.45 lbs.
Binding  CD
Publisher   Naxos Audiobooks
ISBN  9626340401  
ISBN13  9789626340400  
UPC  730099004022  

Availability  0 units.

More About Lawrence Durrell & Nigel Anthony

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Lawrence Durrell is best known for The Alexandria Quartet.

Lawrence Durrell was born in 1912 and died in 1990.

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Product Categories

1Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > Classics
2Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > General
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Authors, A-Z > ( D ) > Durrell, Lawrence
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Classics
5Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Classics
6Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General

Reviews - What do customers think about Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, I)?

The Architecture of Desire  Jun 23, 2008
Durrell's much under-rated poetry finds full amplitude in this Aleandria, the rebuilt library of ancients populated by the wandering rocks of people and emotions. In our current era of stark prose and text messaged sentiments, Durrell will prove to be a heavy read, as laborous as the timepiece hearts he documents, and all of their weird, irrational gears and gyres.

Durrell's eye for cosmopolitanism is brilliant: the religions, languages, and daily chores of different cultures teem throughout his work -- never feeling like some cultural backdrop summoned up as window dressing, but as a anthropological landscape of comings and goings. The themes surface simply and poignantly: desire, regret, and the price one pays for age and indifference, "sad, like studying an old passport." With Joyce's attention to language, and Kazantzakis's ethos of passion, Durrell delivers one of the most memorable sweeps of language I have ever come across.

See, an editor may read this book and want to take the red pen to smear it: verbose, self-indulgent, dreamy, weepy, precocious . . . hardly the lean craft of today's novels. Perhaps that why I love this book so much: the backgammon chauvinism, the "Judeo-coptic analysis", a real labyrinth choked with dusk, dust, and unacknowledged heros. Maybe word processors have ruined our ability to observe. I don't know. But with Durrell I got a real magic carpet ride; the price of admission was patience. But this work thrilled me in a way few do. The varied emotional timbre soar out so exquisitely . . . like when I heard Antony & the Johnsons cover "Knocking on Heaven's Door". The lyrics were well known to me, to you . . . but the quiet vocal shock of the voice was what threw me. Durrell's like this. And unlike the sagging drunks of so many authors I admire, he keeps his addictions fresh and summery. I imagine him even now, with Homer, wearing a woolen boatman's cap, murmurring the names of islands, grinning. That's my kind of novelist.
Intoxication  Jun 19, 2008
Half-way through this book, I must confess, I was about to put it aside as hopelessly esoteric and self-indulgent. But the last 100 pages began to take a different character, and by the time I came to the great duck hunt (an almost Tolstoyan set piece that contains the main action of the novel), I couldn't put it down. And I found myself so moved by the brief final section, which bids a temporary farewell to the more important characters, that I went straight to the bookstore to buy the other three novels that make up Durrell's ALEXANDRIA QUARTET. Now fifty pages into BALTHAZAR, the second of them, I feel as though a landscape previously endured under a haze of oppressive heat has been revealed in fresh light under a clear blue sky.

THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET came out in paperback at about the time I was entering university, and my friends and I bought the first volume or two, probably in the hope that reading such an erudite work would brand us as card-carrying intellectuals, besides being all about sex. I rather think we failed to get beyond a few dozen pages, and were certainly disappointed in the sex. Though Durrell chose Alexandria for its polyglot decadence: "Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds; five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbour bar. But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish between them." He stirs a potent cocktail that includes most of those races and languages. Although the later books seem less opaque, JUSTINE assumes that the reader can handle expressions in Arabic, quotations in Latin, and sometimes whole exchanges in French; even its English vocabulary sent me several times to the dictionary ("banausic" anyone?). Reading the books now, I am amazed at the degree of sophistication that even a highbrow author could assume of his readers in the 1950s, though I suspect that Durrell always intended to give the impression of superior knowledge; that remark about demotic Greek is surely just showing off.

Certainly sex is everywhere in Durrell's Alexandria, in many different forms, gay or straight, for payment and without. But, as compared to his friend and former house-mate, Durrell was much less interested in describing the physical aspects. His main theme in JUSTINE is the apparent separation of sex from friendship on the one hand and spiritual love on the other. His various flavors of half-fidelities and adulteries would have meant little to us at that age. But they do ring more true when one understands more of the blind alleys and detours we allow ourselves to tread in the search for some elusive ideal. JUSTINE is one of the least titillating erotic books I can imagine, but its pervasive sadness can shade into sympathy and even wisdom.

I returned to JUSTINE immediately after reading another novel written by a poet: DIVISADERO by Michael Ondaatje (whose ENGLISH PATIENT also contains scenes of adulterous love in Egypt at almost the same period). But the two writers are very different; Ondaatje's language works by paragraphs or pages; Durrell's at the level of the individual word or phrase. Ondaatje paints pictures which separate themselves from the words that evoked them. With Durrell, however, pictures, characters, ideas are all subsumed in the same perfumed language; his is an intoxicating voice; you either walk out on it or surrender. But he is good; listen to his description of a lake at dusk: "When the engines of the hydroplanes are turned off the silence is suddenly filled with groaning and gnatting of duck." And again at dawn: "And on all sides now comes the rich plural chuckle of duck and the shrill pitched note of the gulls to the seaboard." The opening of the next book, BALTHAZAR, gives an even better idea of his extraordinary use of words, highly-colored but verging on the over-ripe:

"Landscape tones: brown to bronze, steep skyline, low cloud, pearl ground with shadowed oyster and violet reflections. The lion-dust of desert: prophets' tombs turned to zinc and copper at sunset on the ancient lake. Its huge sand-faults like watermarks from the air; green and citron giving to gunmetal, to a single plum-dark sail, moist, palpitant: sticky-winged nymph. Taposiris is dead among its tumbling columns and seamarks, vanished the Harpoon Men . . . Mareotis under a sky of hot lilac."

Durrell's language is both the brilliance of the book and its greatest liability. Elsewhere, he writes disparagingly of a journalist whose profession had "trained him to stay on the superficies of real life (acts and facts about acts)." With Durrell (as with Proust, surely his spiritual mentor), acts and facts are revealed sparingly and told out of sequence; the important action is all internal. But from whose perspective? When all language is equally charged, the only inner life that comes through clearly is that of the unnamed wordsmith. Or are we hearing the voice of the city, with the narrator as its mouthpiece? Perhaps. Alexandria is intoxicating, but enervating. The part of the book that I find truly moving is at the very end, when many of the characters have left. Justine in Palestine, Clea in Syria, Nessim returning from Kenya, the narrator en route to self-imposed exile on a lonely Greek island -- these few rain-washed glimpses suddenly make me care enough about them as people to read the next book, and the next, and the next.
Five stars for Pursewarden's epigraph...  Jan 22, 2008
Justine is another poetry/prose hybrid in the vein of Under the Volcano, or To the Lighthouse. It will not be everyone's cup of tea--it certainly wasn't mine, and if I had not been to Alexandria, and decided to read every book on the MLA 100, I would have tossed it.

There's a fine line between pretentiously turgid and truly remarkable writing, and Durrell skates across it numerous times throughout the work. This book is a very creditable achievement, but it does not scale the heights of a masterpiece like Under the Volcano...a novel that accomplishes in toto what Durrell manages to do only about seventy-five percent of the time.

I recommend the book on aesthetic, intellectual grounds, but nothing else. (Except for Scobie's euphemism for Jews...a real laugh-out-louder.)
Much depth behind the fabulous tapestry of words  Oct 14, 2007
Those who require a book - or series of books - to have a strong, always-moving-forwards, "plot" are understandably frustrated by The Alexandria Quartet. Durrell himself noted that he saw the four books as simply visions of the same complex web of events and people filtered through different perceptions. It is a glittering, multi-dimensional, spiderlike construction of links and mini-scenes, that is given into your hands to look into, to turn a little this way and that, with each viewpoint affording new glimpses down intricate pathways of place, time, and persons. As you explore, you are hand-held by the most amazing use of language to keep you perpetually involved, both in scene descriptions and in meditative thoughts and aphorisms.

So many extraordinary moments and sayings: all ultimately concerned with the nature of relationship, of trust, of acceptance of things as they are, not as they should be. There are painful discoveries: but is there really such a thing as betrayal when everything acts according to its ineluctable nature? Yet pain is real: how devastating are Justine's words "Who invented the human heart, I wonder? Tell me, and then show me the place where he was hanged."

For the marvelous brief portraits - what to choose - How about a quick first view of the dark and enigmatic Justine: "...Justine's lovely head - the deep bevel of that Arabian nose and those translucent eyes, enlarged by belladonna. She gazed about her like a half-trained panther." But then a different perspective: "Later, going to bed, she would catch sight of herself in the mirror on the first landing and say to her reflection: "Tiresome pretentious hysterical Jewess that you are!"

Or the slightly sinister portrait of Capodistria: "He is more of a goblin than a man, you would think. The flat triangular head of the snake with the huge frontal lobes: the hair grows forward in a widow's peak. A whitish flickering tongue is forever busy keeping his thin lips moist."

Or the city itself: "Alexandria Main Station: midnight. A deathly heavy dew. The noise of wheels cracking the slime-slithering pavements. Yellow pools of phosphorous light, and corridors of darkness like tears in the dull brick façade of a stage set. Policemen in the shadows."

I don't know how to convey the unique flavor of "Justine" and the others except by giving these mini-tastes. I think you will probably be able to determine from them if these are books for you. They certainly are for me - have been for many years.

a perfect novel to dive in deeply and relish  Jun 26, 2007
With "Justine", Lawrence Durrell set out to the task of producing the novel matching his times. He wanted "The Alexandria Quartet" to be based on the relativity principle as much as the great authors of the generation before, like Proust, explored the theory of Bergson. According to Durrell, all four parts are to be read as parallel, he call them "siblings" not "sequels", and the separation in space and point of view is used here, rather than the time sequence. He succeeded in producing a work of remarkable, unique quality.

With that in mind, I started reading "Justine", planning to read the whole tetralogy.
At the beginning, we meet the narrator, an aspiring writer, who lives in seclusion on a remote Greek island with his lover's two-year old daughter. He embarks on a quest to reconstruct his recent past in the Egyptian, mysterious multi-national city, Alexandria, which had enormous impact on his life and which is still haunting him.

While in Alexandria, the narrator, a financially struggling schoolteacher, despite his poverty is a friend and acquaintance of people from a vast variety of social background. His lover, Melissa, is a mediocre dancer in a strip-tease club; his friends include the diplomat Pombal, the Jewish doctor-Cabbalist Balthazar, Scobie, the retired policeman involved in secret service, the rich Copt Nessim and - most importantly - Nessim's wife, Justine, a character central to the story in this volume.

Justine, a prototypical femme fatale, is a dark character, a woman who is unhappy and searching happiness through others, and although unfailingly attractive to men, she cannot find what she is looking for. She is intelligent and instinctive at the same time; lustful, crossing all the barriers, but also inhibited and broken by the trauma from her childhood. And, as a femme fatale, she brings only unhappiness to those who love her and many others...

The narrator, in love with Justine despite his friendship for Nessim and love (oh, how many kinds of love exist out there?) for Melissa, is intrigued by her so that in an effort to know her better he collects all bits and pieces of information about her from his own and Justine's old friends, peruses the novel written by Arnauti, Justine's ex-husband, with many quotations throughout the text, looks thorough the diaries and letter. The resulting patchwork does not really get him any closer to the heart of the mystery, the puzzle only seems to be solved. In addition, a story parallel to the tragic love entanglements, involving a secret Kabbalah organization and the spy network, complicates the plot even farther and adds more unexplained facts, speculations and imagined solutions.

Alexandria itself is probably the most important "character" in the novel - the protagonists wander the streets like in a dream during long, hot nights in the city's suffocating atmosphere. The international, multi-faith mix of inhabitants, including, Greeks, Arabs, Jews and European immigrants attracted by the unique lifestyle, produced an unique environment, where Orient and Occident come together, adding to the ancient tradition and Hellenistic culture visible in every corner and the decadency typical for the described period between two world wars. The group of protagonists (none of them exactly central, except, in this part, Justine, who unites them all in the unhappy knot of events) display a strange balance between heart and brain, some prove to be cynical and cerebral, others emotional to the point of absurdity, other switching between animal instinct and analytical mind. The climax, a death, is a point when all the connections seem to fall apart or be deliberately broken, but there is no catharsis, and the characters, although physically separated, still live in their own internal hell, tormented by the past. This kind of ending is very clever, because it provides both the perfect roundup to the story and the encouragement for the reader to get on with the next volumes.

The language matches the plot - it is lush and meaty, fabulously rich in great psychological portraits, descriptions of the landscapes, moods and the city. All the wording is adequate and the frequent quotations (from the Alexadrian Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy) magnificently complement the whole of the novel. I am surprised that, although apparently considered for the Nobel Prize, Durrell finally did not get it, because a work like "The Alexandria Quartet" undoubtedly deserves it.

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