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