2010: 45. Justine

“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind.”

Justine, Lawrence Durrell

       Oh, my, Justine.  Justine is the first of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, a series of novels, set in Alexandria before the Second World War, that all concern themselves with the interlocking relationships of series of Bohemian types who live in the city.*  Justine is the name of one of the characters, though she isn’t the narrator of the book.  The narrator is an unknown expatriate writer (British, I believe), who, when the novel opens, has left Alexandria to an isolated island.  The book is his discursive tale of his life in Alexandria - his love affairs and friendships, one of which was his romance with the elusive Justine.  The book is told in an nonchronological fashion, such that you have to read the whole thing to have even the slightest sense of what happened, and even then, its far from clear.  I assume it’s on the Modern Library Top 100 list because the nonlinear story telling is the sort of postmodern thing that scholars love, and I gather this is one of the first novels to attempt it.  

     Whatever.  The book did nothing for me.  I would call Durrell’s prose florid, at best.  The narrator mooning on about his love affair with Melissa, and Justine and the tortured friendship with Justine’s husband Nessim, and their incestuous little circle was so darned dull, particularly because it was supposed  to be both deep and scandalous.  And I am tired of the notion that adultery is 1) deep and 2) interesting, and nothing about one single character did anything for me.  The only part I liked was the seedily romantic atmosphere of pre-war Alexandria, but even that was only interesting in a trashy way.  So not my kind of book.**


*Or so I am led to believe from internet research, because, as you will soon see, I only have read Justine.

**Which puts me in a bit of a bind, because when I “researched” the Quartet, I see that “the four novels are an exploration of relativity and the notions of continuum and subject-object relation, with modern love as the subject. The Quartet offers the same sequence of events to us through several points of view, allowing individual perspectives to change over time,” which is actually a sort of interesting notion.  But the thought of actually picking up another of these books is so unappealing, I’m not sure I’ll ever find out whether the experiment was a success.


Date/Place Completed:  July 2010; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017