- File Size: 4860 KB
- Print Length: 1380 pages
- Publisher: Open Road Media (June 12, 2012)
- Publication Date: June 12, 2012
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0085IMY6W
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,803 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Digital List Price:||$49.99|
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The Avignon Quintet: Monsieur, Livia, Constance, Sebastian, and Quinx Kindle Edition
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From the Publisher
Lawrence Durrell aboard his Boat
This photograph of Lawrence Durrell aboard his boat, the Van Norden, is taken from a negative discovered among his papers. The vessel is named after a character in Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. (Photograph held in the British Library’s modern manuscripts collection.)
Nancy and Lawrence Durrell
This photograph of Nancy and Lawrence Durrell was likely taken in Delphi, Greece, in late 1939. (Photo courtesy of Joanna Hodgkin and the Gerald Durrell Estate.)
A page from Durrell’s Notebook
A page from Durrell’s notebooks, or, as he called them, the 'quarry.' This page introduced his notes on the 'colour and narrative' of scenes in Justine. (Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Durrell Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.)
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The three always spent their summer leaves together in Avignon at Verfeuille, a crumbling de Nogaret chateau on an estate inherited by Piers and Sylvie. At the present, Sylvie is in a nearby asylum where she is an in-and out-patient. Bruce's sister, Pia, has recently left her tortured novelist husband, Robin Sutcliffe, who is writing a novel based on the threesome. His curiosity is peaked perhaps because Bruce does not elaborate on the "trinity" relationship. Robin is also editing a scathing history of the Templars by his historian friend Toby who is doing research in Avignon.
Following the teachings of Akkad, the leader of a sect of desert gnostics, Piers had taken their anti-Christian view. In Piers' room Bruce finds a map in the shape of a huge snake that Piers had been drawing about his recent life. Among many articles scattered around, Bruce finds drugs and smudges of dark red lipstick on cigarette butts (Sylvie didn't smoke). Had the infamous Sabine been to visit?
Piers' body was placed, according to his wishes, in the family crypt in a quiet ceremony at night with the local priest banned from the site. When Bruce demands to see the body, he finds Pier's head is missing! Inquiry discloses that it was removed so a death mask could be made. Who ordered this and where is the head now?
This is a murder mystery of the highest level. I gave up looking up words I didn't know, or I never would have finished. Lawrence Durrell, famous for his Alexandria Quartet, has followed with more intensity but maybe not more lucidity.
I was not aware of The Avignon Quintet and was eager to give it a try. I was drawn by the references to gnosticism, which is one of my interests. The writing itself is so wonderfully vivid that I preservered long after my interest in the characters and plot waned. I finished probably a quarter to a third of the material. In general, I felt the gnosticism theme was not well developed. I felt it was more of a literary device for the author than a genuine interest. However, the writing itself is really marvelous.
Top international reviews
Chosen because Durrell's books have a poetry about them.
I'd recommend it to people similar to him - rather self-indulgent.
"Happiness, which is only the sense of wonder suddenly revived, ..." / "All ideals are attainable - that is what makes them worth having." / "While events are being lived, they travel too fast for easy evaluation." / "Too much freedom gives you vertigo." / "I had begun to participate in the inevitable. I knew then what bliss was." / "If foreigners did not exist, the English would not know who to patronise." / "To be instructively wounded is the most one can ask of love." /
Man "could not face the freedom offered by choice, whence history." And "History triumphantly describes the victory of divine entropy over the aspirations of the majority." / "Man is born free, free as a nightmare." / "This is the way my world ends, not with a bang but a Werther." / "Good writing should pullulate with ambiguities." / "Civilisation is a placebo with side-effects."
Avignon serves as a main receptacle for this exploration, but there are significant detours to other theatres: Alexandria, Cairo, Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Geneva, Paris, London, Oxford, even Bournemouth. It is largely (though not exclusively) set in the difficult years of the middle of the twentieth century. In a note to the third volume, Durrell states that, whilst not a work of history, this episode "has a high degree of impressionistic accuracy as a portrait of the French Midi during the late war [1939-45]."
The quintet's cleverness is as much down to form as to content. These are books within books within books. Durrell, as early as the second of the five, explores through his characters the structure of his literary conception. "Written in a highly elliptical quincunxial style invented for the occasion," the five books would be (says the author Blanford to his alter ego Robin Sutcliffe) echoes of each other: "they would not be laid end to end in serial order, like dominoes - but simply belong to the same blood group." The first "would provide simply a cluster of themes to be reworked in the others. Get busy, Robin!" Sutcliffe much later contemplates "the whole book arranged in diminished fifths from the point of view of orchestration. A big switchy book, all points and sidings."
But if the character of Blanford/Sutcliffe is really Durrell in matching and opposing personas, the author can at least come clean through his characters: "My style may be described as one of jump-cutting as with cinema film ... The old stable outlines of the dear old linear novel have been side-stepped in favour of soft-focus palimpsest which enables the actors to turn into each other ..." How much of the book is overtly autobiographical would require perhaps a lifetime to truly discover. But Durrell has the author Blanford write of himself, "I have no biography; a true artist, I go through life like a character in one of my own books."
It opens with a ménage-a-trois involving Piers, his sister, and her English husband, with the latter (not the sister) at its heart. At the end of reading the first chapter, I was so marvellously effected as to be unsure of myself and my presence in space/time. I read the following chapters voraciously, feeling myself being conveyed deeply into a world of Gnostic mysticism that played with my abject curiosity in the same way that Umberto Eco's novel `Foucault's Pendulum' had done many years ago. Much of the book revolves around an Egyptian prince Akkad, and like Piers's doubts about Akkad's Gnostic teachings, I had to wonder at the story I was being told: "Could it all have been a fake?" What was this book about? Was it really a murder-mystery? I soon learned that it was not: it is an exploration of identity.
For the book is replete with doubles - even triples, or more. Blanford is Bloshford is Sutcliffe is Sam; Pia is Livia is Constance; Piers is Hilary is Bruno; Sylvia is Livia is Sylvaine is Quatrefages; Lord Galen is von Esslin is Banquo. A taste of how this is cleverly developed is to find that in the third chapter the lines of the quintet's opening sentence that are quoted at the head of this review are repeated, but are now in speech marks and in the third person. This is intriguing, and one soon has a curious feeling that the narrator is not who he says he is, or rather not who he appears to be. There are deliberate slips of the pen. I might have used Blanford's description of wartime Paris as a suitable account for the quintet: "Reality, fine as a skin on milk, was called into question the whole time by this disturbance of focus ..."
The intrigue, the mystery, the interweaving of stories and relationships between the main characters is magnificently handled and await their denouement in the first book's final chapter. But what we have instead is a confusing and rambling and incoherent bumbling until the final few paragraphs shed a slither of fantastical new light, and pave the way for book two. And then, out of the blue - in this clever, multi-dimensional, rambling novel of ambiguous identities - a stray sentence, a twist of a line appears, and the hairs suddenly rise on the back of the neck. At moments like these - such as the sudden realisation that Quatrefages is seeking the Templars' treasure on behalf of Lord Galen -my praise for the work knows no bounds. Not since I read Dostoevsky's `Crime and Punishment' has a work of fiction so astounded me in this way. The superlative passages are more numerous when read with a glass of wine: Cotes du Rhone, of course.
After some detours of continental proportions, there is towards the end of the 1,300 plus pages a return to the consideration of the ménage-a-trois that opened the epic quintet. Blanford had tried "to forge a novel round the notion of this triune love. Alas, it had not come off. The idea ... would, in the reality also, fail." References to Shakespeare's sonnets are obvious, and Sutcliffe remarks that, "the situation outlined in them would have made perhaps his finest play."
As well as deep truths peppered in the text, there is much tosh too; poems and streams of consciousness, puns and senseless aphorisms (sic). But one can forgive Durrell his occasional Bacchanalian lapses of taste. Partly this is due to the greatness of his literary conception but also because his almost esoteric philosophy at heart has a sound basis: the exploration of identity has a meaning, for Blanford declares at the end that, "the book, my book, proved to be a guide to the human heart, whose basic method is to loiter with intent ... until the illumination dawns!"
Of course the Quintet is, in many parts, a beautiful book, or collection of books. Durrell takes the reader to Egypt again, and his depiction of the south of France, where he lived, makes for a vivid and appealing painting of a country: Provence, that has now changed beyond recognition. His speculations on the gnostics and the cat-and-mouse game around the templars' mystery are interesting and had the potential to guide the kind of multi-layered story developed in `Alexandria'.
But the five-tome piece has none of the sober coherence of Durrell's earlier work. The novellas, and too often the characters, are related by a writer's trick, not through the plot itself. They are also marred, in `Livia', by an attempt at a historical rendering that falls flat by purposely ignoring chronology. And Durrell rambles; of course he is witty and brilliant, but no one can always be brilliant over asides that take perhaps half of this 1,300 page block.
The Quintet remains readable and in many parts absorbing, but it is for true devotees of the author. I wonder if Durrell was tainted by the French `nouvelle vague', which seems to have influenced the book's construction and characterisation, or whether he was simply aiming too high in trying to exceed his own, unmatchable masterpiece.