“Have you read Justine?” asked Peter, my boyfriend, in 1979.
“The Marquis de Sade?” I ask, wide-eyed
“God no. Laurence Durrell. It’s about writing, becoming a writer. And, it’s very beautiful. It’s the first book of the Alexandrian Quartet.”
The next time I was in the bookstore near the pizza place down there on Speer Blvd. with my friend Anne, I found Justine and bought it. It went with me to visit my grandmother in Oregon, my first solo trip on a jet or any other plane, for that matter.
It is an amazing novel. At the time I read it (age 27) it seemed to be mostly about unrequited love and yes, writing. The most memorable line (and I won’t quote it exactly) happens between the protagonist and a character he’s talking with in a bar. The other character (impossible for me to remember at this point) “Wrestling with an insoluble problem grows a writer up.”
That (true) statement has echoed through the vacuous chambers of my mind for forty years. Anyhoo…
At At the time I was reading Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn) and it was cool to learn that Miller and Durrell had been good friends. (Photo below — Henry Miller is the guy in the glasses…)
Four years ago a friend of mine in Montana alerted me to a new series on PBS, so, knowing she and I are pretty similar beasts, I trusted her and signed up for PBS Passport and commenced watching The Durrells in Corfu . I was intrigued maybe especially, and naturally, by the Laurence (Larry) character seen through his brother’s eyes.
These past few days, amidst the political weirdness, my hurt foot and I have spent the last few evenings semi-binge watching the final season. We — well I as the foot has not always been hurt — have enjoyed the entire four years of this PBS/Masterpiece program based on the books written by Laurence Durrell’s naturalist brother, Gerald. It’s a visually beautiful show, set in the mid-1930s, about a very eccentric (real) British family led by a mom with the grace to allow her kids to be who they are. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I watched it from the PBS/Masterpiece site, but it is also available on Amazon with one of their subscription deals. Even if you have to pay, it’s worth it. Here’s a little preview to whet your appetite.
The four books in the Alexandrian Quartet are Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. If you research them on, say, Goodreads or some place you might learn more about them than I, in my late 20s, was able to fathom. Ultimately, my favorite was the final novel, Clea.