"Justine, Melissa, Clea. . .There were so few of us really-you would have thought them easily disposed of in a single book, would you not? So would I, so did I."
The second volume in Durrell's acclaimed "Alexandria Quartet," is a prime example of the sort of airy, dry mid-century modernism style that has not aged very well. There's little plot, characters drift in and out, there's no real meaning or point (but that is the point!), everything is filtered through the consciousness and subconsciousness of the characters, all of whom are pretty much indistinguishable from one another. What was striking in the mid-50s is rather dull and conventional now. That said, this book was a little more engaging than the first, "Justine." Followed by "Mountolive." Fun lit fact: Durrell and Henry Miller were good friends.
"The city, inhabited by these memories of mine, moves not only back wards into our history, studded by the great names which mark every station of recorded time, but also back and forth in the living present. . ."
Balthazar has no plot and it doesn’t need one. The first book, Justine, gave it to us through the progression of the narrator Darley’s various love affairs from the beginning, to the duck shoot, and beyond. So, the plot being fait accompli freed Balthazar from that chore and allowed Durrell to display in-depth riffs on the characters and on any other damned thing that crossed his creative mind. And he does this in vivid, sensual prose sprinkled with welcome doses of laugh-out-loud humor. As we all know, a requirement of great novels is that they continue to bring one pleasure and insights, reading after reading. In my younger days I favored the other three books -- lively romances of a literary bent -- and thought Balthazar rather a bore. Back then I was caught up by the author’s focus on LOVE (yes, all caps). This time I’m more intrigued by the mysterious political game these characters seem to be playing.
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