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The Alexandria Quartet: Justine/Balthazar/Mountolive/Clea ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

This quartet of novels relates the meanderings, musings and couplings of several British expatriates and Egyptian natives in the Alexandria of the 40's.  Like most such novels, they are all mood & sensuality, with little plot and no point.  Expatriates--Hemingway, Miller, the Fitzgerald of Tender is the Night, etc.--have produced some of the most overrated literature in modern memory and many of the worst novels on this List.  It is often said that most great Art is about the search for identity.  But to be considered great Art, it should help us discover something about our own identities; it should be universal.  Durrell, one of "the apostles of sex", has written a monument to his own identity and it elicits just one response: Who the hell cares?


Grade: (F)


To the contrary, all lives have the same plot, though the scenes differ. The idea that they don't is merely a pose and what makes such novels trivial.

- oj

- Jan-07-2007, 11:27


I think you're making the mistake that most critics make when they dismiss novels for being all "mood and sensuality"--the mistake being that LIFE is mostly mood and sensuality with very little plot. If you want to read John Grisham or Michael Crichton (screenplays passing as literature, if you will) then do so, and leave the more complex works for those who'd rather not pretend life is full of Hollywood happenings.

It's wonderfully accurate that you bring Miller into regard when concerning Durrell but mentioning Hemingway and Fitzgerald is ludicrous. Hemingway should have stuck to journalism and Fitzgerald used his writing as a means of coping with his self-perceived inferiority. The two authors works have little relevant to the work of Durrell--and honestly, would Miller even be in your brief snippet if he hadn't been a correspondent of Durrell's? The two Tropics differ greatly from the Quartet.

You're grouping four novelists by time period and nothing else. And that's a shame. Focus on Durrell and Durrell only and perhaps you'll get more gratification when reading the Quartet.

I would also recommend that you glance at Emerson's poem, "The Rhodora". His philosophy on beauty should be applied to literature more often.

If you'd like to retort, I'd be glad to hear it:


- Samantha

- Jan-06-2007, 18:53


If you learned nothing about yourself, you are really insensitive, if not stupid.

- carol

- Aug-18-2006, 02:10


I am 76 years old and I have just finished reading "Justine" for the third time. I still have to shed tears when I read it as the writing is so beautiful!! I will probably read it again, God willing!

- j. Rafferty

- Mar-08-2006, 19:07


You're not terribly bright, are you?

- Mike Tandrow

- Dec-16-2003, 10:16