Saturday, November 29, 2008

the last book I read

Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell.

This is the second novel in the celebrated Alexandria Quartet, the first of which, Justine, I read back in January 2007.

To recap quickly, the narrator has retreated to an unnamed Greek island to reflect on his time in Alexandria, his affair with the enigmatic Justine and the various goings-on among the diverse expatriate community.

The second book covers pretty much exactly the same period of time as the first, but from a slightly different perspective - the narrator, Darley, has received a manuscript from his friend Balthazar which throws a new light on the events described in Justine - most obviously Darley's view of his relationship with Justine herself, which, it transpires, was largely a smokescreen for Justine's relationship with the British novelist Pursewarden, who subsequently commits suicide.

So we're in Rashomon territory, as a second viewpoint of a series of events reveals the subjectivity of the first - and, by implication, the second as well. The next book in the series, Mountolive, describes the same sequence of events from a third viewpoint.

As with the first, there's a lot of idle swanning around, and, for a novel sequence ostensibly about "modern love", surprisingly little in the way of passion - not that I demand pages and pages about people's inner thighs, or bodily fluids squirting about all over the shop, but there's a lot of talking and precious little in the way of evidence of actual shagging.

For such a wordy and cerebral (some might say "pretentious") novel, though, it's all quite readable. I suspect that by the end of Mountolive I'll be chafing for an end to the navel-gazing and some progression of the plot, though.


Anonymous said...

Personally I am a fan of this Quartet: it's a great read.

Quick question: Have you read any Nabokov? Someone at a party on Saturday night couldn't recommend him highly enough (and not the usual suspect "Lolita", but the less obvious choice "Ada or Ardor").

electrichalibut said...

Funnily enough I picked up a paperback copy of Lolita (which I've never read) in a second-hand bookshop the other day.

The Nabokov's I have read are Pnin, which was OK, and Pale Fire which I thought was fantastic, although getting through all the text-within-text-within-text stuff to work out what was actually going on made my brain hurt a bit.

So there's another recommendation for you. Never read Ada or Ardor though.