As with his equally masterful biography of Malcolm Lowry (Pursued by Furies, 1995), Bowker here does signal service in...


THROUGH THE DARK LABYRINTH: A Biography of Lawrence Durrell

As with his equally masterful biography of Malcolm Lowry (Pursued by Furies, 1995), Bowker here does signal service in reviving a once great literary reputation. Durrell (1912-90) may only occupy the second tier of 20th-century British writers, but he's at the very top of it. Like Lowry, he was personally unpleasant, abusive, misogynistic, blithely lecherous, cantankerous, an inveterate drunk. Writing tended to goad him into a state bordering on madness, drawing those around him into the fecund maelstrom, often with unpleasant results. He wrote quickly, anxiously; many of his greatest books were produced in a matter of months. Though a proponent of Freudian analysis, he stayed far away from the analyst's couch, afraid the talking cure would dissipate his creativity. While Durrell had an ostensibly large artistic range--poems, travelogues, thrillers, even paintings--most of his work returned to a few large themes, in Bowker's words: ""the quest for wholeness through sex and art and, faced with the disintegrating ego and a world gone mad, the confrontation of death and the coming to terms with it."" Until modern mores caught up with him, his focus on sex was considered quite scandalous, and he was often lumped together as a pornographer with his close friend Henry Miller. Yet behind all the bad behavior and outrageousness, Durrell worked a good deal of his life as a respected member of the British diplomatic corps, with postings to Cyprus and Yugoslavia. Bowker is a shrewd judge of character and has substantial storytelling flair. He effortlessly weaves biography and criticism together into a discerning whole. The only major flaw in this unauthorized biography is beyond his control: The ""fair use"" doctrine drastically limits his ability to quote from Durrell's work. A noteworthy success that meets the highest standard of literary biography.

Pub Date: June 16, 1997


Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997