Lawrence Durrell – Justine – some thoughts

My second literary event in the space of a few hours was to finish my reading of Lawrence Durrell’s book Justine – the first book of his Alexandria Quartet.

I bought the book back in 1969 and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. It was one of those books that I was attracted to and yet thought it might be stodgy and old-fashioned.

I am a great fan of Gerald Durrell and loved all his books – particularly the Corfu trilogy. I adored his light humorous style. In that book he gives a pen-picture of his two brothers, mother and sister. Lawrence comes out as a bit of an arrogant prig, a bit up his own backside with lots of pretentions to literary genius.

I found that I was automatically thinking of the name Durrell differently in pronunciation for the two men. With Lawrence it came out as a more affected French sounding, refined Du Rell rather that the more common Durrell of Gerald. But that was just me.

I enjoyed the book and its picture of Alexandria. It was rather old-fashioned and it did take me a while to read. I found I could only do it in small chunks. But it was colourful. It left me with three abiding impressions:

  • One the vacuousness of life with its preoccupation with love affairs and sex
  • The casual elitism and racism that the white elite should exist at a totally different, rarified, level to the native Alexandrians
  • The casual attitude to the suffering and cruelty meted out to wild-life – the mass slaughter of the ducks and geese on the lake and the description of how boats used live tortoises for ballast. They were easier to collect that rocks. They put thousands of them in barrels in the bilge alive – and dumped the putrefying bodies into the sea when they the arrived in port – there were plenty more where they came from.

I think future generations (if there are any) will look back in horror at the cavalier way in which we have cruelly treated living creatures. We will be viewed as barbarians.

This is a book that I will go back to read again. I think I need to absorb more that one can glean from one reading.

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