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The Avignon Quintet by Lawrence Durrell

The Avignon Quintet (1974)

by Lawrence Durrell

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If you read "The Alexandria Quartet" - and expect something similar : forget it.
Much more mysticism here, less story. We are taken to Avignon (and Provence) Egypt, Venice and other places, like we were dreaming.
Obsession with death is throughout the book. I am not sure I like this book, but only halfway through it.
Sometimes it is hard to understand it exactly, what Durrell means to say. (English is not my native tongue) - I will come back when I finished.
If anyone (who reads my comment) and read the book, I would be happy to listen to other's opinion. ( )
  jdth | Jul 15, 2014 |
Lawrence Durrell is not an easy author to read. His prose is long, fabulous, filled with wandering soliloquies and journeys into the human heart, mind, spirit which at first can seem completely lacking in intention and purpose, and mere descriptive play and fascination with the written word.

He writes on a number of levels and performs immense spatial-temporal tricks with both setting and characters so that at times it is difficult to understand not just where one is located in one's reading of the novel (taken as a group of five) but if one actually exists within it. Durrell speaks to those who can hear, and you may find yourself wondering whether you are a character he has written into the prose, living as one of the protagonists on simply another plane of his imagination.

( )
  Scribble.Orca | Mar 31, 2013 |
so long and so vacuous ( )
1 vote pjpjx | Oct 30, 2010 |
In the Avignon Quintet, Lawrence Durrell is a snake who swallows his own tale. How's that for "simply put"?

How intimidating...to begin a "discourse" on the Quincunx (this enormous five book novel)...well, the truth is, I'm just not worthy. For one thing, a reviewer should be conversant regarding the theories of Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, and Baudrillard. But the prospect of climbing those Gallic peaks makes me vow to hoist Old Glory up the flagpole and boycott French fries. And of course, I'd need to throw out a few terms like "diachronic", "parabasis", "mimesis", "semiosis", and "alterity". But the garbage man doesn't come until next Wednesday, and further, I don't want that the responsibility for that mess of terminology to be ultimately floating around and merging into sporks and tennis shoes and maybe life, as some monstrous plastic island, in the far Pacific.

[For an example of a discourse gone wild: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFD01r6ersw ]

The thing is, though, I really liked the Quintet. "Yaass suh," said the nouveau-riche oilman, removing his 10 gallon hat, and wiping his brow, "I don't know much about art but I know whut I like, and I like that Per-cassa fella." For me, the Quintet was like a post modern War and Peace. The novel, set before, during, and after WWII in southern France, Switzerland, and Egypt was all about the unique ways in which war, by death and delay irrevocably, unpredictably, and ironically changes the lives of non-combatants and combatants alike.

But that's just my simplistic, initial observation. The novel - a novel of ideas - is a whole lot more. An exhibition of post modern literary techniques, a bildungsroman, an exploration of Gnosticism, Freudian theory, Platonism, a side journey into medieval history, a tour of Europe, a book of poetry, a journal of pensees...and on and on. And now that I've read it once, I plan to read it again and again, to see what I missed. To add to what I've learned. To find material for further exploration. The Quintet is multilayered as a Fellini movie and full of moments and ideas and descriptions that just stand alone, apart from the narrative, shining in their beauty, like an Anita Ekberg wading through Trevi fountain. As Durrell puts it, the narrative is just a string linking together so many precious pearls. Why obsess over the string? Indeed, obsess at your own risk, in the Quintet, that string of pearls is a Moebus strip tied into a Gordian knot!

The images and stories and elements of philosophy are so blended that at times the narrative is as hard to remember as a dream upon waking. Gnosticism, Platonism, and tantric yoga linger in the air and, if Durrell's lyrical interludes were not enough, serve to further drug the reader.

At the end of the novel, the wartime survivors from the town of Avignon and a troop of gypsies, begin to enter a cavern in a final search for the hidden treasure of the Templars. What a fitting and conclusive image, a mirror reversal of the seekers in Plato's cavern, speculating on the objects that lie outside the cave and cause the shadows that make up their reality. Like matter finding anti-matter, the novel ends as though it were the moment before the Big Bang.

Bravo, Durrell, bravo! ( )
10 vote Ganeshaka | Dec 5, 2009 |
Forget the "Alex 4tet". This book plays with your head and leaves you begging for more.... until the final few pages. AIIIEEEE!!!! ( )
  Hoagy27 | Nov 27, 2006 |
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Published between 1974 and 1985, the five books that make up the Avignon Quintet are another monumental achievement by one of the most inventive and acclaimed novelists of the twentieth century. Beginning in the years leading up to the Second World War and ending in the years just after it, the characters of Durrell's timeless series travel from France to Egypt to England to Switzerland, encountering irrepressible political and spiritual forces that sweep their lives toward an enthralling and unexpected conclusion.… (more)

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