If the last name "Durrell" seems familiar to you, it is probably because the author's brother, Gerald, is the author of a series of incredibly popular comedic autobiographical novels, the most famous of which, My Family and Oher Animals, has been published worldwide and made into countless television series. However, whlle Laurence and Gerald are siblings, their writing styles could not be more different; Laurence tends to write from a metaphysical and philosophical standpoint, and The Alexandria Quartet is a prime example of this tendency.
A love story at heart, The Alexandria Quartet consists of four novels, the first three, Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive set in Alexandria, Egypt, shortly before, and during, World War Two, each book giving a different perspective and viewpoint on the same series of events. The last book in the tetralogy, Clea, is set six years later. The first of the novels, Justine, remains the most well-known, and was the most successful of the four. Durrell also draws from the time he spent working for the British government in Alexandria, and the characters he encountered added to the rich and fertile pictures he drew for his readers.
Whilst love is the main theme of the series it is certainly not the only one; the book also deals with ideas presented by Einstein and Freud, specifically relatively and the relationship of people, and objects, to one another.
Durrell achieved the rare feat with this quartet of books in that both critics and the general book buying public loved them. Modern Library ranked the Quartet at number seventy on its list of the one hundred best books of the twentieth century.
Due primarily to the success of The Alexandria Quartet, Durrell published The Avignon Quintet in 1974, following the same blueprint, to even greater acclaim. The first book in the series, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the third novel, Constance, was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1982. Having previously had to supplement his writing income by working for the Foreign Service of the British government, Durrell was at last able to enjoy the life of a celebrated writer, and finally dedicated himself to writing full time.