Monday, May 24, 2010

My Favorite Author

This week I wanted to do a tribute to probably one of my favorite authors of all time, Lawrence Durrell. Over the last year or so, I’ve been surprised that many of my fellow book-lovers out there had not heard or even read any of Durrell’s work. In a way I’m not surprised because he’s not usually taught in school (I myself didn’t run across his books until I found one in a bookshop during grad school). But for his sheer writing ability, his prose, and his style I have absolutely no qualms about comparing Durrell’s books to Shakespeare, Dumas, or even Homer. He’s that good!

If you’re a newbie to Lawrence Durrell, start with one of his best novels ever…Justine. It’s the first of four novels collectively known as the “Alexandrian Quartet” and is his most famous and best written collection (in my opinion). Justine in of itself is mesmerizing on its own, but what really makes it magical is if you read the entire collection. The first three books of the “Alexandrian Quartet” are not sequels, but “sibling” works. In other words, it’s the same story told from three different perspectives. You read the first book, thinking you have a pretty good idea about what’s going on, and then you get into the second and it turns out that the protagonist in the first novel was being completely misled by multiple other characters and much of what appeared simple was in actuality much more complicated. The fourth book is an actual sequel of the same events.

Briefly, the story is set in Alexandria, Egypt just a year or so before the outbreak of World War II. The main character speaks in a first-person narrative, reflecting on events not as they happened, but as they first became important to him. He gets caught up in a series of complicated love affairs and friendships, amidst a backdrop of darker motives that involve murder and espionage. The plot alone sounds melodramatic, but what really makes this book shine is the language and style with which Durrell writes. For a further description on the quartet, check it out on Wikipedia.

Other great books by Durrell include a series of five novels known as the “Avignon Quintet,” which takes places in Provence, France. Much of Durrell’s work is drawn from his own extraordinary life experiences. Preferring to refer to his nationality as “cosmopolitan” rather than British, he lived abroad in Greece, Egypt, France, Argentina, Yugoslavia, and India just to name a few. He worked in the British Foreign Service at various posts throughout Europe and although he rarely had a fixed home, he and his family lived for many years on the Mediterranean island of Corfu in Greece. He was also good friends with Henry Miller (who wrote Tropic of Cancer). Over the course of his long life Durrell wrote dozens of novels and other works that include poetry, drama, travel books, and essays. So checkout one of his works today, and see what surprises are waiting for you just around the corner!