Monday, April 17, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: Justine, Pt. 3

Lawrence Durrell

As many have said before and many will repeat in the future, one of the joys and benefits of rereading some works is the discovery of the "new" or actually unnoticed elements in the work.  Sometimes the "new" brings out new themes or motifs in the work.  Sometimes it forces a re-thinking about of the work.  This is rare, but it does occur, and this is what has happened with this rereading. In spite of three? or four? readings, I never noticed this before or never realized the significance of it.

Justine is Darley's attempt to reconstruct the events of his life in Alexandria and make sense of it.  It is flashback, but with a very interrupted and convoluted narrative.  He does not go back and start with his arrival in Alexandria and move forward in a chronological straightforward  way to the present.  Instead, it is almost impossible to construct a chronology without considerable effort, and perhaps considerable guesswork by the reconstructor.  I had always taken this as an example of what many modern writers insist is the way that memories work--not in a chronological fashion, but somewhat randomly and those random memories bring up related memories. This is what it seemed was happening in Justine.   But, then I read this, seemingly for the first time.

(What I most need to do is to record experiences, not in the order in which they took place--for that is history--but in the order in which they first became significant for me.)

If this is so, then the events presented us are those which became significant in his reconstruction of his past life in Alexandria, and are not simply the random productions of memory.  I don't have time now, but I shall leave a note for my next rereading of Justine.  I wonder how this will affect my reading.  


  1. i've had that experience; not with Durrell, but with other books: it's sort of like being hit on the head with a cow(ref a short story by Joseph Mitchell)...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      A cow? Something to contemplate. Sounds almost as bad as those flying cows.

    2. LoL!! i take it you referred to the incident(s) in Brazil... i had to look it up... this has to be a put on.............. doesn't it?..

    3. Mudpuddle,

      Brazil? I have no idea what that's all about.

      I was thinking of the following poem after reading your message about being hit in the head by a cow:

      “A little bird in the sky
      drops its waste in your eye,
      you don’t mind and you don’t cry…
      you just thank God that cows can’t fly.”

    4. no... there's a story in the news about cows flying around in Brazil and upsetting the natives; there's even pictures.... google it under "flying cows"...

    5. Mudpuddle,

      Amazing what can be done with photoshop or any of the other software.

      Do people really believe those are really flying cows?

  2. You make some very insightful points here Fred.

    Rereading is so rewarding and is in some ways essential. When I reread I also "discover" passages that I did not remember before.

    I love the idea of leaving reading notes for your future self. It may sounds trite, but I do this for recipes. Doing it for rereading seems brilliant!

    The way memory is presented in this book sounds fascinating.

    1. Brian,

      Memory and perception seem to me to be the important themes in the Quartet. Durrell's treatment or presentation of his memories is unique and frequently puzzling. Reading the Quartet is definitely an experience. I will probably talk a bit about this later, but rereading the Quintet is also an experience, one that I had forgotten about.

      I don't make notes for a future reread that often--usually I just rely on memory (a mistake) and markings in the margins.

  3. Dare I say: rereading proves texts never change but readers always change; your discoveries say more about the reader than the text. In any case, I'm pondering what texts I would most like to reread, so thanks for lighting that fire under me.

    1. Tim,

      So true. It's an intriguing way to discover my changes over the years.

      I wonder if in a reread I pay more attention to the words, the language, and less attention to trying to follow the flow of the work. In a reread, I have a vague idea of where the work is going, so I can pay more attention to details.

      Just a thought.

  4. Interesting commentary, Fred. I think also that when we reread books we are at different seasons in our lives which can cause us to interpret books differently. Sometimes because we're more mature or perhaps we've outgrown what we once thought was so profound.

    On a different note: I know this is a case of Cognitive Bias, but I am currently reading a book by Durrell's brother, Gerard, which is a memoir of their time on the island of Corfu. Because of that I was already interested in reading Lawrence Durrell's books and your review seems to be a "sign" that I should.

    1. Sharon: i've been a fan of Gerald; and the book you're referring to is excellent... he's written many works on animals, which are hilarious and informative...

    2. Sharon,

      Or sometimes we finally mature sufficiently to understand the author's point. I've only read one of Gerald's books, but I've always thought that I would go on to read more.

    3. People may or may not mature and gain perspective and wisdom, but they cannot avoid changing, sometimes in good, bad, or ugly ways. I guess the best novels, when we read about changes in characters, for better or worse, serve as mirrors for readers. True or False: If we do not see ourselves in the character(s), we lose interest in the novel.

    4. excellent point, TD; don't know the answer to the question, tho... i guess i'd think that the interest has something to do with intellectual engagement, sometimes...

    5. @ Mudpuddle: I am currently writing my review for Gerard's book My Family and Other Animals. Have you read it? I hope you'll contribute your two cents' worth when I publish it.

      @ Fred: Absolutely, I was just discussing this case in point in the story, Wuthering Heights, a novel I hated as a teenager but came back to later and have learned to love it. Why is a loooong conversation.

      @ Tim: Again I agree. I think that we progress or regress which is another long topic for discussion. I also think that when we are young we often have a choice as to how we act or talk but if we don't mature or develop some kind of self-awareness or personal conviction, later in life we become a slave to our behavior. I'm thinking of people who as young people refuse to think before they speak. After years go by I wonder if they are able to think before they speak. There's more to it than that but I can only write so much in a comment box.

      That's a provocative thought: are we reading ourselves into the books we read?

    6. Sharon,

      I had a similar experience with Jane Austen. I tried several times but could never get past the first 25 pages or so. Then, shortly after turning 40, I tried again and I was surprised to discover how interesting she had become since my last attempt.

  5. Tim,

    That's been a longstanding debate issue: which is most imporant--character, plot, setting, ideas, themes. . .

    I think the relationship between the reader and the story is, to some extent, unique for every story.