The Alexandria Quartet

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Darley, a writer, becomes involved with Justine, the wife of Nessim, a wealthy Egyptian Copt. Eventually, it is revealed that Nessim and Justine are engaged in smuggling armaments to Palestine and that Darley is a secret agent. Surrounding this basic plot and involved in it with greater or lesser degrees of awareness are Mountolive, the British Ambassador and former lover of Nessim’s mother; Melissa and Clea, Darley’s mistresses; Balthazar, a doctor who treats Justine; and various characters who flesh out the community of Alexandria.

The tetralogy’s substance and appeal issue from its ever-changing points of view on the action. The first three novels cover the same events, but do so from different viewpoints. Darley is the narrator of Justine (1957) and of Balthazar (1958), which presents, however, the interlinear notes of its title character and corrects Darley’s limited version of events. In Mountolive (1958), which is written in the objective third person, Darley becomes a character. CLEA (1960) serves as a commentary on the whole and advances the narrative forward. Thus, each novel corrects the one before by providing more information from a different perspective.

The structure of the tetralogy, rather than its content, reflects Durrell’s interest in the nature of reality and of knowing. This is reinforced further through the use of writers as characters and of journals, letters, diaries, and memoirs....

(The entire section is 487 words.)