I finally forced my way through Durrell's Avignon Quintet. It is his centenary this year, something I only realised when I was halfway through. Considering the fact that I think Justine is one of the three or four greatest novels of the 20th century, this later collection of short novels was a massive disappointment. First of all, the writing is bad. Not just overwritten, but technically very weak. There are sentences in here that repeat themselves in the clumsiest way imaginable:
Here they were to bury themselves in the three-cornered love which had once intrigued Blanford and caused him to try to forge a novel round the notion of this triune love.
My god that is an ugly sentence. There are terrible metaphors and similes which are striking for all the wrong reasons – I see flicking back through my copy that I have underlined in horror the phrase ‘the dry marsupial pocket of the rarely used vagina’ which, if you can believe it, is even worse in context than it is in isolation. In the last book, Quinx, which came out in 1985 but reads like an experimental failure from the late 60s, there are long passages of pseudo-profound philosophising which go on for pages and pages and seem to mean almost nothing:
The day when Aristotle decided (malgré lui) that the reign of the magician-shaman was over (Empedocles), was the soul's D-Day. The paths of the mind had become overgrown. From that moment the hunt for the measurable certainties was on. Death became a constant, the ego was born. Monsieur came down to preside over the human condition.
If you think any of this makes sense in context, I can assure you you're wrong.
And yet. That said, in a weird way I have a kind of grudging respect for the beast. There are some crazy things Durrell is trying out in these works – the five books intersect each other in bizarre ways, so that some characters are creations of other characters, or versions of the same person in a new life. Mostly it doesn't work at all, but I still think this is what good novelists should be trying to do. Basically, if it had been enlivened by the kinds of beautiful sentences that we got in the Alexandria Quartet I would have been happy, but without that, it's just very, very dull.
Work has been fun this week. Yesterday I went to the Crazy Horse to film their new show, which has been designed by Christian Louboutin. It was one of those surreal afternoons where my job seems amazing: drinking free champagne all afternoon and watching girls take their clothes off in elaborate ways. Now usually I hate these Parisian cabarets – Hannah and I went to the Moulin Rouge a few weeks ago and it was one of the worst nights out I can remember – and something about the obviousness of watching women undress on stage depresses me; but there's something about the Crazy Horse, they just seem to pull it off with so much wit and irony that it always wins me over. Christian Louboutin was a very rambling interviewee however, and expressed disapproval at the old pair of trainers I was wearing – which to be honest I thought was pretty rich coming from someone who expects women to pay thousands of pounds for shoes that only acrobats can walk in. (He was wearing a red pair of Roller-Boats, which cost €1000.)
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