Tag Archives: Lawrence Durrell

Nunquam

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nunquam [Amazon, Publisher] by Lawrence Durrell, book 2 of The Revolt of Aphrodite series.

Durrell Nunquam

Nunquam is the second half of a “novel in two parts,” of which Tunc is the first. There’s no point in planning to read only one of them, or of taking them out of sequence. All of the critical stage-setting and character development for Nunquam takes place in Tunc, and Tunc opens numerous plot-lines without even artfully suspending them before their resolutions in Nunquam. The Latin titles are taken from the phrase aut tunc, aut nunquam, which is to say: “either then or never.” (53) Neither part is terribly long, and I would recommend reading them in the combined edition titled The Revolt of Aphrodite.

Hardly any new characters are introduced in Nunquam. About a quarter of the way into this second volume, the narrator/protagonist Felix finally gets to meet in person the mysterious Julian Pahlevi, his elusive employer. The meeting is the occasion for a rather spectacular monologue on Julian’s part. (70 ff.) All the characters who do recur go through significant transformations, and this fact is a further point which demands that Tunc be read first. 

While carrying forward the contemporary setting of the first book (written in the late 1960s), Nunquam seems less modern, more grounded in archetypal narratives. Still, such grounding provides a basis for considering the cultural and psychological changes wrought in modernity. Nunquam has both explicit allusions to and thematic resonance with the Pygmalion and Faust stories, not to mention their prior modern synthesis in Frankenstein. The last invites as much contrast as comparison when it comes to the matter of sex and gender, which is not at all peripheral to The Revolt of Aphrodite.

Although Durrell wrote that in going from the first volume to the second he “tried to move from the preposterous to the sublime,” he does so by heightening the absurdities of his scenario. Durrell also described The Revolt of Aphrodite as an interpretation of the preface to Spengler’s Decline of the West. Having enjoyed the novel in both its parts, I’m now thoroughly tempted to follow up by reading its purported inspiration.

Tunc

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tunc: A Novel [Amazon, Publisher] by Lawrence Durrell, book 1 of The Revolt of Aphrodite series.

Durrell Tunc

Tunc is really only half a novel, since Durrell had planned throughout to continue and conclude it in Nunquam, and there is nothing like a conclusion evident in the first book. Still, it’s a pretty good half-novel as I rank them. The style is very 20th-century modern, perhaps midway between Malcolm Lowry and Thomas Pynchon, complete with the latter’s tendency to interject funny songs and verse. Protagonist-narrator Felix Charnock is an inventor whose fortunes become embedded in the multinational firm of Merlin Industries. He has gone to ground in Athens after a circuit that began there, led him to Istanbul and thence to London. His original technological forte is audio recording, but during his late time at the firm he has applied himself to the extracurricular development of Abel, a computer dedicated to the purpose of divination on the basis of recorded speech and other data. Tunc is a retrospective exercise, just as Abel is coming fully on-line. Charnock reflects on his friends, lovers, and professional associates since the days of his independence in Athens, charting out a wide-flung web of psychological manipulation and frustrated desires. 

The book and its sequel are together titled The Revolt of Aphrodite. I’ll take a breather before reading Nunquam, but it’s firmly on my list to be read.

The Dark Labyrinth

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dark Labyrinth by Lawrence Durrell.

Durrell The Dark Labyrinth

Lawrence Durrell’s second novel The Dark Labyrinth was originally published as Cefalu in 1947. It’s not clear why he uses the name of the Sicilian village for his fictional locale in Crete. An appended author’s note quotes at length the passage from Henry Fanshawe Tozer’s Islands of the Aegean (1875) that he says inspired the book. My Dutton paperback copy touts itself as an “early novel by the author of Justine” rather than an independent interest.

The main concern of the novel is with a sightseeing party from an English cruise, who are lost after an accident in a subterranean labyrinth in Crete. They enjoy a surprisingly wide diversity of fates. There is a flavor of allegory about the book, and the carefully constructed characters include a poet, a shorthand typist, a painter, an evangelist, a spiritualist-occultist, and a married couple. There is also a side story concerning a gentleman veteran rehabilitating his mental health and doing a bit of espionage.

Once I got the rhythm of the book, it was a speedy read. Durrell does not at all belabor the mythological allusions; there is perhaps just one mention of Ariadne, although the Minotaur is an active presence in the form of an indeterminate menace in the labyrinth itself–one which resolves differently for different characters. The Dark Labyrinth is not a genre novel, yet the later chapters swing rather dramatically among such strange attractors as horror and mystical philosophy, without being subordinated to them.