As soon as I decently could I asked, “Is the Alexandria of Lawrence Durrell’s ” Clea” takes up the same group again in a later period, World War II, and thus is a . The magnificent final volume of one of the most widely acclaimed fictional masterpieces of the postwar era. Few books have been awaited as eagerly as. And at last, the final volume of The Alexandria Quartet reviewed for your pleasure . In Clea () we finally gain a true sequel to the story thus.

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L awrence Durrell claimed that the four books of The Alexandria Quartet were “an investigation of modern love”. It’s possible to take that idea at face value. Some have even used it as a stick with which to beat him. Notably, his Guardian obituarist writing inat a time when Durrell’s reputation was possibly at its lowest ebb said “a harsh judgment” of his masterpiece might be that it was “a four-volume romantic novel written by a poet steeped in Freud and on nodding terms with Einstein”.

I’m guessing from the warm response the books have had from this month’s Reading Group that most of you reading this will see that as an absurd rather than just a harsh judgment.

Even if we accept that Durrell was only concerned with romantic love, that gives us endless scope for discussion — as Reading Group contributor Wheldrake has pointed out:. Love, even in this most straightforward of its senses, takes many forms; from Scobie’s tragic lusts to Balthazar’s brief purgative encounters with sailors to Darley’s obsessive, poetic idealisation of Justine.

It also moves in mysterious ways.

I tried to trace the main relationships in the book and became hopelessly entangled, vis:. Melissa is also loved by Cohen, just “as much” as by Darley.

Or so we are currell. Darley also loves Justine.

Clea – Lawrence Durrell

Justine loves both of them back. As Balthazar puts it, under the heading of “Fallacies and Misapprehensions”: She was forced to use you as a decoy in order lawtence protect him from the jealousy of Nessim whom she had married. Pursewarden himself did not care for her at all — supreme logic of love!


By this stage, it’s safe to say, things are quite complicated. But it’s in Mountolive that things get truly confusing.

Darley, the narrator of the first two books, the self-confessed “student of love”, has an awful lot to learn. It becomes impossible to pretend that Durrell is confined dudrell “romance” and that this investigation of modern love is about no more than intertwining couples. Flea we are to believe the godlike narrator of this third volume we must start doubting everything that we have learned before. Nessim isn’t motivated by romantic love at all. And if the books are about love, they are also about hate.

About empire, power, Palestine, nationalism, money, deceit, assassination, alliances, spying, religion, friendship, betrayal Now we know how literally we should have taken the statement: Except, of course, this being the Alexandria Quartet, there is another way of looking at things.

Even as the meaning of love appears to be broadening, it is also narrowing. Nessim’s political plans are restricted by and dependent upon his cpea and his mother — and his love for them. Mountolive’s ability to engage with the problem Nessim’s “love” presents is also constrained by his own loves for Nessim and for his mother And then there is also the fact that by this stage in the proceedings lawwrence seems unwise to trust what anybody says about anything — especially that authoritative authorial voice So where are we?

Tangled in an intricate web.

Little in the Alexandria Quartet is simple. Indeed, there are dozens of other strands this brief survey might have touched upon. I haven’t even mentioned Pursewarden’s sister, or his suicide note, or the book he claims to have started “all about love” the discovery of which made me, as a reader, feel ever more like he is standing in a hall of mirrorslooking into an infinity of reflections. I also haven’t mentioned the idea of Alexandria as the “winepress of love”.

Nor Pursewarden’s idea that love is “trench warfare”. Nor Justine’s idea that “love consists wholly of paradoxes”. Justine, who also says to Darley: I felt I was saving Nessim with every kiss I gave you.

Given the knowledge that comes in Mountolive, it would be possible to write volumes about that last statement alone. But at this stage I should stop and hand over.


Even if we accept that Durrell was only concerned with romantic love, that gives us endless scope for discussion — as Reading Group contributor Wheldrake has pointed out: How striking, the range of acceptance and inclusion in this “investigation of Modern Love”. It really is hard to name another novel from the s with such broad vision of love and sex — a vision which is not framed by passing political fashions and easy slogans, but rather by a concern for the humane, for the treacherous, compromising ways of the heart.

I tried to trace the main relationships in the book and became hopelessly entangled, vis: My ‘love’ for her, Melissa’s ‘love’ for me, Nessim’s ‘love’ for her, her ‘love’ for Pursewarden — there should be a whole vocabulary of adjectives with which to qualify the noun — for no two contained the same properties; yet all contained the one indefinable quality, one common unknown in treachery.

Each of us, like the moon, had a dark side — could turn the lying face of ‘unlove’ towards the person who most loved and needed us. And just as Justine used my love, so Nessim used Melissa’s…. One upon the back of the other, crawling about like crabs in a basket.

Most notably, “love” for Nessim is a very different kind of obsession: He was asking, not cleq her hand in marriage here his lies had created the misunderstanding but for her partnership in allegiance to his clda daimon. It was in the strictest sense, the only meaning he could put upon the word ‘love’ It was as if [Justine] had only now understood the nature of the love he was offering her; it was his all, his only treasure, this pitiable political design so long and so tormentingly matured in his heart that it had forced out every other impulse or wish.

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