Sunday, October 11, 2015

Justine by Lawrence Durrell


An expatriate writer is torn between two lovers in 1920s Alexandria

Our unnamed narrator, in the exotic outpost of Alexandria, is torn between beautiful suffering Melissa, a poor inept club dancer, and beautiful suffering Justine, wife of a rich man. The three make their way, drinking, sightseeing with other expatriates and even a few colorful natives, a pervasive feeling of melancholy infecting every scene. Both Melissa and Justine have other men who hate the idea that their woman is seeing someone else.

The lush first person narration creates a unique ambiance, but the plot, what little there is of it, moves forward in dollops, never quite ending up anywhere. As a reader I got it, Melissa, Justine, Justine, Melissa, sweet sweet womenhood. But I needed something to happen, and grew impatient with all this sitting around making goo goo eyes. I wanted to slap the narrator sometimes he seemed so world weary.

Jan Morris’s prologue was very dismissive leading me to expect the worst, but it wasn’t that bad. The descriptions were strangely compelling. Although every action is taken so very seriously. There is no hint of humor in the book. Tragic events are here, buried beneath the narrator’s self regard, such as the missing daughter, the dead mother. Perhaps that’s the point.

Love stories have inherently low stakes. See Junot Diaz. I couldn't bear sticking around for three more books with these twits.

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