70. The Alexandria Quartet: Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell

Year Published: 1958
Pages: 182
First Sentence: Landscape-tones: brown to bronze, steep skyline, low cloud, pearl ground with shadowed oyster and violet reflections.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

I usually try to write my reviews within a few days of finishing the books, when I've had a chance to ponder a bit but not to forget everything (I have abysmal recall abilities). For a few reasons I had to put off this review, though, and now here I am some time later trying to write about Balthazar and decide at the same time whether I want to continue reading The Alexandria Quartet at all.

Because, you see, while I liked Justine quite a lot, I liked Balthazar quite a lot less than that.

The premise is thus: our anonymous narrator from Justine (initials revealed to be LGD, which, yes, are the same as Lawrence Durrell's) sends his finished manuscript to his friend Balthazar, a minor character from the first novel. Balthazar is a gay mystic who doesn't seem to figure much in this book bearing his name, either. He returns the manuscript to LGD with significant and substantial markups.

LGD calls this "the Interlinear," and it reveals that Justine didn't love him at all. She only used LGD to distract her husband Nessim's attention from her affair with Pursewarden, a minor writer character introduced in the first book, who didn't love her back. This revelation may have shocked me as much as it did LGD.

Pursewarden is expanded and improved here considerably from his Justine appearance. Nessim's brother is brought into the action, as well as the still mysterious Mountolive, who seems to have something to do with diplomacy. Nessim's brother is in love with Clea, who barely knows he exists, and this leads to a murder.

There is a lot going on in this book, woven as it is between two different people's perspectives and speculations. Whereas I enjoyed the arbitrary cast of characters and random threads in the first book, their compounding here has become much more confusing. Do I care enough about these people to keep reading and find out what happens in the end?


Clea is the most compelling character, and she remains somewhat of a cypher here. The title suggests that she must figure prominently in the fourth book. She is "golden," a painter, wounded and peaceful, or at least so far. I'm interested in her, but I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to keep reading, at least not right now.

So: Balthazar is an ok book and a fine companion to Justine.

For now I'm going to pause my reading of the Quartet, but I may revisit it in the future if my curiosity gets the better of me.

- - - - -
'What have you done to your face?' I say to change the subject. He has recently started to grow a moustache. He holds on to it defensively as if my question constituted a threat to shave it off forcibly. 'My moustache, ah that! Well, recently I have had so many reproofs about work, not attending to it, that I analysed myself deeply, au fond. Do you know how many man-hours I am losing through women? You will never guess. I thought a moustache (isn't it hideous?) would put them off a bit, but no. It is just the same. ...'
- - - - -
But then I suppose we live in the shallows of one another's personalities and cannot really see into the depths beneath.
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