No, not me, but Lawrence Durrell. To celebrate his centenary this year, the Durrell School of Corfu have published a previously-unpublished novel by Durrell, Judith. It was originally written as a vehicle for the 1966 film of the same title, but after being rewritten in 1970 still never saw the light of day. Until now. A limited number of 500 copies have been published. I have one of them. See:
Lawrence Durrell’s poetry doesn’t always work for me. I like the fact there’s plenty to unpack in them, though many of the references are often unfamiliar to me. Their chief attraction for me is the beauty of the language Durrell used. He had a knack of painting an image with just the right words. Here are a few examples from Selected Poems (1956):
Ten speechless knuckles lie along a knee
Among their veins, gone crooked over voyages,
‘A Rhodian Captain’
On charts they fall like lace,
Islands consuming in a sea
Born dense with its own blue:
Where minarets have twisted up like sugar
And a river, curdled with blond ice, drives on
There is a metaphysical and mythological aspect to much of Durrell’s poetry – while he saw what was there with a painterly eye, he also described what could not be seen. And as a result his poetical portraits of places, and people, feel complete in a way many other poets have not managed. Durrell called this his “Heraldic Universe”: “that territory of experience in which the symbol exists … for every object in the known world there exists an ideogram”. He also said, “‘Art’ then is only the smoked glass through which we can look at the dangerous sun.” I like the sound of that.
As I was writing my post about the Durrell Centenary (see here), it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted photos of my more recent Durrell acquisitions. And since this is Larry’s year, I felt I should do so. Durrell’s books also, as someone put it, constitute high-class book porn, and that’s always welcome.
Three novels. I’ve no idea how I managed to miss The Black Book the last time I posted up some Durelliana, but never mind. My edition is signed. White Eagle Over Serbia was a recent purchase, though I’ve had a paperback edition for a number of years. The Revolt of Aphrodite is an omnibus of Tunc and Nunquam. And yes, I own the individual volumes as first editions too.
Three travel books: Sicilian Carousel is about Sicily, obviously. The Greek Islands is about… go on, have a guess. Caesar’s Vast Ghost, however, is about Provence (where Durrell lived from the late 1960s until his death in 1990). My copy of The Greek Islands is signed.
Finally, three limited editions. The Red Limbo Lingo is slipcased and was published by Faber & Faber. My edition is unsigned, so obviously I plan to correct that at some point. The book with the marbled cover is Henri Michaux: The Poet of Supreme Solipsism. It is signed. And the big one with the colourful cover is a poem by Durrell set to music by Wallace Southam, In Arcadia. It is signed by both.
Here’s the title page of The Red Limbo Lingo.
Here’s Durrell’s signature in Henri Michaux, plus a prospectus for the book which was included inside when I bought it.
And here’s the signatures of Durrell and Southam in In Arcadia.
2012 is the centenary of Lawrence Durrell’s birth and there are apparently a number of things happening to celebrate it, including a conference in June. In bloody London, of course. But never mind. Lawrence Durrell is my favourite writer – see here and here – and on a purely sentence-by-sentence level I believe there has been no finer writer in the English language. Since pootling along to events in London is not that easy for me, I shall have to mark the centenary in my own way.
And the obvious way to do that is to read his books.
So, sometime during 2012, I am going to reread The Alexandria Quartet. And then The Avignon Quintet. And then The Revolt of Aphrodite. But first I need to get hold of the omnibus editions, as they were “improved” slightly from the original individual editions. I shall also read Durrell’s poetry. And whatever other bits and pieces of his writing that catch my eye.
And I shall blog about it all, of course.
Due to ongoing projects, none of this is likely to start until after Easter. In the meantime, here’s a link to my review of Durrell’s first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers, from 1935. The novel is from 1935, that is; not my review. Enjoy.
Book haul time again. It’s been a month since the last one, so once more you get to see what new items I’ve added to my already-groaning bookshelves. Instead of a single photo, I’ve broken it down this time into several pictures.
First up is a trio of non-fiction books: Personal Landscapes by Jonathan Bolton, a study of British poets in Egypt during the Second World War (poets such as Lawrence Durrell, Keith Douglas, John Jarmain, Terence Tiller, Bernard Spencer, and others); a signed copy of A Short History of Lyme Regis by John Fowles, for the collection (see here); and Seven Miles Down by Jacques Piccard & Robert S Dietz, the only book written about the bathyscaphe Trieste‘s descent to the floor of Challenger Deep fifty years ago (see here).
Next up is four first edition genre novels. On the right is a signed and numbered slipcased edition from Kerosina Books of DG Compton’s Scudder’s Game, which also includes Radio Plays. In front of it is A Usual Lunacy, also by DG Compton and signed, and published by Borgo Press. Next is Colonel Rutherfords’ Colt by Lucius Shepard, for the Shepard collection (see here). Finally, Phillip Mann’s The Eye of the Queen, which completes my Mann collection (expect a book porn post on his novels soon).
Here are a couple of old British sf novels which were listed on my British SF Masterworks list (see here). No Man Friday by Rex Gordon I’ve had for a couple of months, but A Man of Double Deed by Leonard Daventry is a recent purchase. Expect reviews of both to appear on this blog soon. In fact, I intend to review most of the books on my British SF Masterworks list, the hard-to-find old and obscure ones almost certainly.
This is In Arcadia, a signed and numbered chapbook published in 1968 by Turret Books. It contains the eponymous poem by Lawrence Durrell, and music by Wallace Southam. The pair did two such chapbooks – I’ve had the other one, Nothing is Lost, Sweet Self, for a while (see this Lawrence Durrell collection post here).
And finally, here are four books for the Space Books collection. Sky Walking is astronaut’s Tom Jones’ memoir (no, not that Tom Jones, another one; the name, well, it’s not unusual). First Landing is a sf novel about the, er, first landing on Mars, by Robert Zubrin, an expert on the topic. Mars Underground by William K Hartmann is also about settling the Red Planet but is non-fiction. And last of all, Reflections from Earth Orbit by Winston E Scott is another astronaut autobiography. All four books are signed.
Most people believe Lawrence Durrell’s first novel to be The Black Book, published in 1938 by the Obelisk Press in Paris (it was considered obscene by UK publishers, and not published in this country until 1977). In fact, Durrell’s first novel had been published three years earlier by Cassell. It was titled Pied Piper of Lovers. Unfortunately, it sold badly, was savaged in a review in Janus magazine by John Mair, and few copies survived the Blitz. Durrell himself also refused to allow the book to be reprinted – perhaps because it was a little too autobiographical. As a result, copies are very hard to find – in fact, “barely a dozen copies survive in libraries around the world”.
But now the Canadian University of Victoria’s ELS Editions has, after 73 years, finally published a new edition of Pied Piper of Lovers. And a very nice edition it is too. There is an excellent introduction by editor James Gifford – from which the above quote about “barely a dozen copies” is taken. The text itself is copiously footnoted – perhaps too copiously in places: I should have thought it unnecessary to point out, for example, that “Portsmouth, England, is a coastal city in Hampshire”, as only the dimmest of readers is going to blithely ignore context and confuse it with the many Portsmouths in the USA.
After the text of the novel is an essay, ‘An Unacknowledged Trilogy’, by James A Brigham, which argues that Pied Piper of Lovers, Durrell’s second novel Panic Spring (published in 1937 under the pseudonym Charles Norden), and The Black Book are a thematic trilogy. Pied Piper of Lovers also features a “Works Cited & Selected Bibliography”.
Some books are plainly written by young men, and Pied Piper of Lovers is one of them. The prose seems to foreground the senses, more so than plot or structure or characterisation. Every raindrop is lovingly described, every emotion takes on supreme importance. Durrell’s prose was always lush, but it was in service to the story. In Pied Piper of Lovers, Durrell appeared to be intent primarily on making a point with his novel – in as rich a language as he could manage – and only secondarily in actually constructing a narrative. Perhaps this was because he was at the time chiefly a poet.
Clifton Walsh is born in India of an English father and an Indian mother who dies in childbirth. He is raised by his father, a civil engineer, and his aunt, Brenda. His schooling is haphazard, and eventually his father determines he should be sent to school in England. While Clifton is at boarding-school, Brenda settles down in London. When his father dies – Clifton has not been back to India since being sent to England – Clifton leaves school. He has no fixed ambition, just a need to get away. He stays at a sea-side cottage near Hangar, on the border between Devon and Dorset, and meets Ruth. They fall immediately in love. Meanwhile, Clifton has discovered he has a gift for music – specifically, for writing it. He sells a piece to a music publisher, although the publisher is more interested in the “tune” in Clifton’s music and turns it into a piece of popular jazz. Clifton goes to live in Fitzrovia, an area of London, where he meets and interacts with a variety of bohemian types. He stumbles across Ruth, and the two settle down together. She, however, is terminally ill. They move back to the south coast, and he supports them by writing popular tunes. The final chapter of the book is a letter from Clifton to his best friend from boarding-school.
It’s perhaps the language of Pied Pipers of Lovers which is most interesting, and most appealing. The prose was clearly written with a poet’s eye. Perhaps it’s not always successful, and there are no passages which grab the eye as there are in Durrell’s later works. Perhaps even, the rich language occasionally works against the story, obscuring what should be clear. Especially in the Prologue, thirteen pages of which describe the arrival of the doctor at the bedside of Clifton’s mother, his birth, and her subsequent death. In other parts of the novel, the narrative seems to enter a literary “bullet-time”, and emotional events which transpire over almost no time are dissected in lush prose over several pages. And yet Durrell’s writing is often at his best when his focus pulls back and he moves the story forward.
One of the aspects of The Alexandria Quartet which appeals most to me is that it is a series of novels about British expatriates in the Middle East. Pied Piper of Lovers turns this on its head – Clifton doesn’t feel himself to be English, but he is in England. But neither is he not English. In fact, the major theme of the novel is Clifton’s feelings of being torn between two homelands, yet not fully part of either. Durrell, like Clifton, was born and brought up in India, then sent to England to be educated. Durrell also lived briefly in Fitzrovia, and was as much a “Bohemian” as those he describes in the novel.
There is also – and this further indicates to me that Pied Piper of Lovers is a young man’s novel – an uncritical reflection of the attitudes of that set at that time, as if they were adopted unthinkingly. There are a number of anti-semitic comments in the book, a stereotyping of Jews as grasping merchants – a not-uncommon attitude in 1930s Britain, but at odds with Durrell’s later pro-Zionism in The Alexandria Quartet. But there is also an open tolerance of homosexuality – something which seems to me was a peculiarity of the Bohemian set (cf Oscar Wilde, Charles Scott-Moncrieff, Robert Ross, Wilfred Owen and others a decade or two earlier).
The book’s structure displays Durrell’s frequent inability to stick to his intended narrative plan. The timescale is uneven, events are not properly placed, and Clifton’s age is occasionally hard to calculate. And yet the book is carefully split into five parts: Prologue (birth), Part I (childhood in India), Part II (boarding school in England), Part III (Fitzrovia), and Epilogue. I’m reminded of The Avignon Quintet, in which each of the five books begins clearly on track but seems to soon drift from it… until the central mystery of the quintet, Templar treasure hidden somewhere in Provence, is solved almost in passing near the end of the fifth book, Quinx. It’s strange that while Durrell showed a poet’s careful control over his language, he never seemed to have as much control over his plots.
So, how grateful should we be to ELS Editions for publishing Pied Pier of Lovers? Personally, I’m very glad indeed. I love Durrell’s work and, while I found Pied Piper of Lovers less satisfying than his later works, I’m very glad I read it. I’ll probably even read it again. It’s always interesting seeing how favourite writers develop, and Pied Piper of Lovers is an important novel in that regard. Anyone with an interest in Durrell should read it.
I haven’t added to my Durrell collection since I posted photos of it on this blog at the request of Jeff Vandermeer back in April of last year. But I did miss out a couple of items, so I thought I’d show them off.
First up, Down the Styx, published by Capricorn Press. The story is framed as a letter from Durrell to his Aunt Prudence, and describes the journey on which she will be taken by Charon… and which turns increasingly anatomical. It’s beautifully produced, as can be seen from the photos.
Here are three poetry collections…
… And a pair of plays.
Two poetry chapbooks – On the Suchness of the Old Boy and Nothing is Lost, Sweet Self. On the Suchness of the Old Boy was illustrated by Durrell’s daughter, Sappho, and she and her father have both signed the chapbook. Nothing is Lost, Sweet Self is actually a poem set to music by Wallace Southam. As you can see it’s signed by both Durrell and Southam.
I also have quite a few first editions by Anthony Burgess, and I might stick photos of them up here. And there’s my Nicholas Monsarrat collection too. Neither are as extensive, or contain as many rare items, as my Durrell collection, however.