Except in its brief beginning (on Durrell's initiative) 25 years earlier, this five-year correspondence between writer-on-bottom and writer-on-top is persistently poignant. Aldington--erstwhile husband of poet H.D., translator, novelist, friend of D. H. Lawrence and Roy Campbell--sits in the south of France in 1957 convinced of his failure. His unflattering biography of T. E. Lawrence has been savaged by the British press (and the government, he thinks); now, he concludes: ""People eventually get sick of a name and the inevitable limitations of one mind, though I have suffered by being too versatile. The law of diminishing returns comes into action. . . . The clue for me now is to shut up as far as a new book is concerned. . . ."" And he does almost exactly that, desultorily compiling a German guide to D. H. Lawrence, a few bilious rejoinders, little else. Durrell, on the other hand, also living in the Midi, a distant neighbor, is flying high: The Alexandria Quartet is starting to make him famous and rich. And while he is unfailingly warm and polite and considerate of Aldington, it takes a good part of the five-year correspondence before he breaks himself of the habit of leading off each letter with a report of either fabulous critical clamor or of large sums earned, Just before the correspondence ends (with Aldington's death in 1962), the older writer is feted in Moscow, all expenses paid--bitter ratification of his harmlessness and lost vigor--while the younger one is, we sense, trying to put a little distance between himself and the old crank. What La Rochefoucauld said--that ""In the misfortune of our friends, we find something which is not displeasing""-seems the subtext here, and the main interest despite all the lavish name-dropping and sad temps perdu.