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The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell

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It is daunting to write a review about ‘The Alexander Quartet’, it’s rather like photographing a sunset, you have to be there.

At the beginning of 2000 I was given a copy of the Waterstone’s top 100 Books of the century list.  At that point I had read 20 something of the books on the list and set a goal to read them all.  Some books have introduced me to now loved authors like Nick Hornby, some I just didn’t get and 2 I found utterly unreadable namely Ulysses and A Brief History of Time.

I started ‘The Alexander Quartet’ a year ago but soon put it aside.  Three months ago I hauled it out again to take on the challenge.

I really struggled with the dense writing and found the 1st and 2nd books very hard to get through.  For a period I set myself the task to get through at least 10 pages a day.  Toward the end of the 3rd book ‘Mountolive’ I became truly aware of the brilliance of the work.  It felt like being in an opticians chair with those owl frames in front of my eyes, as the book progressed new lenses fell into the frame giving clarity of vision.

Reading most books is rather like scanning a picture from one side to the other.  Reading ‘The Alexander Quartet’  is like watching an artist at work from start to finish, seeing layer upon layer of paint being applied and colours balancing each other.  It’s an arduous process, at times boring but ultimately a privilege to witness.

I did get a sense that like Virginia Woolfe Lawrence Durrell is a bit smug about his skill but you don’t have to like him to respect him.

The 1st 3 books deal with the same characters and time frame seen from different angles and perspectives.  The last moves forward in time.  His character development can only be bettered by John Irving in ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’.  I can’t say that I really cared for any of the characters but they were perfectly drawn.

If the book did not take 3 months to read and I didn’t have a month old e reader waiting for attention from me I would be tempted to turn straight back to the 1st page and start it over again.  The only other book I’ve ever done that with was ‘The God of Small Things’.

It would make a perfect desert island book but right now I am behind on my reading and ‘too many books, too little time.’  Now I’m off to download the lightest fluffiest chick lit book I can find and play with my waiting e reader

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