A Biography
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Elegant and meticulous, this authorized biography of the author of such literary works as The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet is a belletristic treat. If this biography existed in isolation, it would be a formidable achievement. Its fluidity and richness of detail echoes Durrell’s work at its best. But MacNiven (Literary Lifelines, 1981) is up against last year’s landmark Durrell biography, Into the Dark Labyrinth, by Gordon Bowker. It’s a fair fight, and in the ideal world both books should be read since they cover substantially different ground. Though MacNiven has the advantage of being able to quote freely from Durrell’s oeuvre, he is much better on his subject’s life, while Bowker’s real strength lies in his understanding and exposition of Durrell’s work. These two biographies make a compelling case for his protean talents, the timelessness of his art—but they probably aren’t enough to hold the ebbing tide of his popularity. Durrell was a child of the Raj, and MacNiven convincingly argues that India, in one form or another, inflected much of Durrell’s writing. Sent away to England—the despised “Pudding Island”—for schooling, he quickly proved an indifferent student. Unable to get into university, he set out for Corfu, intent on becoming a writer. This was the start of a peripatetic life that seemed to fuel his work. Each move, to various Greek islands, to wartime Alexandria, to the south of France, brought with it a cascade of poems and at least one novel. Unlike so many expatriate writers whose work remains ineluctably homebound, Durrell was truly a poet of places. In MacNiven, he has found a gifted, sympathetic interpreter. (36 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-571-17248-2
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


NonfictionPATRICK LEIGH FERMOR by Patrick Leigh Fermor
by Patrick Leigh Fermor