Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Quincuncial Quintet

At some point about 10 years ago I basically stopped reading fiction. I had reached a point where I realized fully that my time was truly a scarce resource. With only a limited amount of it available for reading for pleasure, I spent that time reading primarily nonfiction, mostly history and biographies.
Now a decade later, my time is even more precious and I have to make decisions about how do I use it to my best advantage. Should I go for a hike or tend to my orchids, should I catch up on projects at the office or meet a friend for coffee, should I blog or exercise?
Lately, it's been all blogging and my increase in dress size will attest to.
But about 10 days ago I did something unusual. I delved into a serious work of fiction, The Avignon Quintet by Lawrence Durrell.
This book, or quincunx of five novels with interwoven themes and characters is a mere 1367 pages long. So far I've finished Monsieur, Constance and Livia. Can I slog through the remaining two novels, Sebastian and Quinx given that the OED and a French/English dictionary is required.

Having read Durrell's Alexandria Quartet about 30 years ago I thought that this book would be a fast read with its Oxbridge named characters, Aubrey, Hilary, Constance, Livia, Piers, Robin, Tobias and Pia and their pre WWII exploits in southern France.
What I read was something very different.
Here's the Wikipedia description:
The Avignon Quintet is a five-volume series of novels by British writer Lawrence Durrell, published between 1974 and 1985. The novels are openly metafictional and reflect the developments in experimental fiction following after Durrell's previous The Alexandria Quartet. The action of the novels is set before and during World War II, largely in France, Egypt, and Switzerland.
The novels range among multiple and contradictory narrators, often with each purporting to have written the others, and the thematic materials range from a feigned form of
Gnosticism[1], obsession with mortality, Nazism, and World War II to Grail Romances, metafiction, Quantum Mechanics[2], and sexual identity.
Missing from this description is psychoanalysis and poetry, Freud and relativity and other interesting themes.
I started this book thinking that I would only read Constance, the most well known of the novels for its description of life in occupied France. But now after reading some 900 pages I'm ready to finish the book.
Obviously, my orchids will have to wait a bit longer...
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