Thursday, April 19, 2012

1000 pages of wonder

The Alexandria QuartetI have mentioned here that I was reading The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. It is #70 on my book club list. I finished it last night, and now I’m going to gush about it for a while.

It took me a while to finish the entire thing. All four books combined are over a thousand pages, but since it was divided into four books, I decided to break it up a little bit and read other books in between. So a month and a half later, I’m finally done!

It was undoubtedly worth the time, though. On Shelfari, I was giving the individual books 4 out of 5 stars, but the entire Quartet gets 5 stars, and I named it a “favorite.” This book just blew me away.

First of all, the writing is awe-inspiring, and I’m not tossing that term around willy-nilly, half-cocked, or even helter-skelter. There were times when I’d pause in my reading and think, “Wow.” There were times that Durrell’s description of WWII-era Alexandria were so vivid that I could see and hear it in my mind. The way he would describe a sunset, the atmosphere, the quality of candlelight...I honestly don’t recall any book I’ve read that had such beautiful writing and imagery. That is probably what stood out for me the most.

I also enjoyed the device of telling the same story through different perspectives; the first three books are written in this manner, and the last one moves forward in time from one character’s point of view. It makes for an interesting read to see that there is more to the story than we initially realized, and it also gives great insight into the characters. Why did they do this? Why did they react this way when another character reacted differently? What secrets are being kept?

As for the characters, I was amazed to find that I came to care about them so much. It’s always a joy to be so absorbed by the story and by the writing that you feel drawn into these people’s lives; you begin to feel that they are friends. A scene toward the end had me sitting with my hand over my mouth, almost in tears. “Noooo!” Of course, when you spend a thousand pages and a month and a half with someone, you’re bound to get a little attached! As with all my favorite books, I was a little sad to see it end. There was a hopeful sense at the end, so I’m going to think that there were happy times ahead for them all.

I don’t know if this book is for everyone. It does get “wordy” (Not that that’s always a bad thing...this book wasn’t gratuitously long. Durrell chose his words wisely and well.), there is a lot of French thrown in there (thank you, Google Translate!), and it’s more character-driven than action-packed. But if you love wonderful writing, you can’t go wrong with this book. I was charmed. I’m even smiling as I write this, thinking about how beautiful it was.

This book is a perfect example of why I’m glad that I’m sticking with the book club list (the Modern Library 100 Best Novels). It’s not a book I ever would have picked up on my own, and I’m very happy to have read it. There have been a few others on the list that I feel that way about, and I’m sure there will be more to come. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is books like this one that make my life richer, and make me so grateful to be a reader. What a remarkable gift for a writer, to be able to foster such feelings in a reader!

On deck: Summer for the Gods, about the Scopes monkey trial, and the next on the book club list is The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton. Good reading!


  1. I read the quartet some years ago and enjoyed it, but I didn't feel it as life changing. I might give it another try, because as I remember, I rushed through it. I also probably would want to read them in a different order.

    It actually reminded me a little bit of reading Faulkner's Sound and the Fury with the differing viewpoints.

  2. I look forward to hearing about your take on "...Gods"... I was actually thinking about that book myself... the Scopes Trial is a fascinating piece of Americana and would be at home in today's climate, which is horribly sad to say...

  3. I will put it on my list -- maybe for this winter.


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