So after discussions about Lawrence Durrell in James Nicoll's LJ
(Warning: Rape triggery) I decided to pick up a copy of the Alexandrian Quartet, on the grounds that the author is dead and that therefore all proceeds must go to their much abused inheritors and the somewhat less abused publishers.
Ahem, I know this will mark me forever as the very definition of a philistine, and indeed not only do I have no soul, if I did have a soul it would contain no poetry, but if I may summarise my initial thoughts upon starting to read Justine
Oh Em Gee guys, Oh Em Gee.
Not becuase I like it but because... well it's easier to show than tell here really, take this for examples:
Capitally, what is this city of ours? What is resumed in the word Alexandria?
Right here I have my first problem; wtf actual language is this? I might have let the "Capitally" go, sort of just assume it's a weird variant of "Hullo!"; it occurs at the end of a longer string of paragraphs that are seperated from this bit from a line break immediately above it, and overall gives the impression as though the narrator is mildly surprised that the reader is still reading at this point, a mere 5 paragraphs in, and suddenly realises he has to actually tell a story.
But "resumed in the word Alexandria?" Really? English: it does not work like that.
So already I'm off to a bad start before I've turned the first proper page of the book, and there's guzillions more pages to go!
Of course then I have the second problem with the book, which is that Durrell never says where Alexandria is aside from mentions of "the orient", which due to my having the geographical knowledge and wisdom of an inverted cat led me to guess that it was in Turkey... a quick google corrected this... and led me to ask the unfortunate question of "what effect would it have on my reading of the text if I read this book assuming that the "Alexendria" that plays a central role in this book is in fact Alexandria in West Dumbartonshire, Scotland
?" Alexandria, Scotland being a small town I once got lost through (long story), whos economy seems to be based entirely around old moanied people and middle aged poor people, both lots of whom dress in their own particular quasi-tribal way all year round to ensure that regardless of what time of year it is half the population is nonetheless inappropriately dressed for the weather.
In that context I gift you the next dodgy Block O'Text from Durrell:
The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body — for it has outstripped the body. I remember Nessim once saying — I think he was quoting — that Alexandria was the great winepress of love; those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets — I mean all who have been deeply wounded in their sex.
Now in Durrell's defense, this was written in 1957, when genital surgery was still in its infancy and so deeply wounded sexes were a more permanant problem than they would be today.
And no the book is not about intersex people nor anything to do with transsexuality or transgenderism either; this book transgressed social norms of sex and sexuality of its day but not too much
(it's very much like Fifty Shades of Grey
in that respect; neopolitan kink that is really just vanilla with some trace amounts of chocolate and raspberry off to the side, who's trace still manages to stick in the theoretical craw of hypothetical grey men in suits)
But here is my problem in a nutshell: the book is an almost never ending series of straight lines like that one about wounded sexes, And all of these faintly Carry On
grade puns goes on with, in my head at least, the background of the grey high streets populated by the tartan shopping bagged grannies and buckfast swilling middle aged heroine addicts that very much define the small scottish town, all of which pops to mind whenever the narrative says "Alexandria", which it does constantly. All of which is then made worse by the words being employed producing alternative readings from the intended one, but readings where the "alternative" actually reads more naturally because you can't simultaneously use a verb as a noun because neither nerbs
exist in the english language goddamit!
So this is going to be one of those slogs for me, like Neuromancer
was, the difference is that while Neuromancer
was just badly written this is well written but in a way that at every step trips over the trailing untied shoelaces of its own pretentiousness and falls arse over tits with its skirt around its head and its knickers flapping in the breeze. That bit with the "Capital" and the "resume"? Kinda happened a third time on the same page with an obscure word for "fodder", contrast these two sentences:
The sexual fodder which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion.
The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion.
Note that I've changed what I consider to be the offending word, and note also that the overall tone or feel of the sentence changes fuck all from one version to the next, the only thing that maybe is of note is that by using an obscure term for fodder he's sort of coyly masking the harshness of the term... except that provender is literally a kind of fodder, nothing more or less so... it's not masked at all so...
At which point it ceases being a lyrical artifice or literary quirk and become a case where Durrell's clearly dropped his chair and whip and now his theosaurus is loose about the page, running amok, performing grateful dead length guitar solos and using words that have hyper-obscure tertiary – or sometimes even primary! – meanings, not because they suit the context or rhythm of the sentence (i.e. not because they're necessary
) as far as I can see but just so an obscure meaning can
be employed for the sake of employing it. And I expect better theosaurusical discipline from my high literary netorare pr0nz, dagnabbit!
And note that these literary guitar solos have happened three times on the first page! And in one case he starts throwing nerbs about! Neeeeerrrrrbs!
If this continues I'll have to start mst3king it here, because if I have to suffer, EVERYONE has to suffer moohaha.
NOTE: I do not begrudge anyone else liking the books, being able to find joy in something = good (except Neuromancer
, fuck that book)