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Literature

Books by Lawrence Durrell to Add to Your List

The Durrells in Corfu, a British comedy-drama television series loosely based on naturalist and writer Gerald Durrell’s three autobiographical books about his family’s four years (1935-1939) on the Greek island of Corfu, increased interest in the works of Gerald’s eldest brother, the novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer Lawrence Durrell. Perhaps best known for his Alexandria Quartet of novels, he also authored travel books and other novels set in Greece, including The Dark Labyrinth, originally published in 1947 as Cefalu, then released under its new name in 1958.

The book tells the story of a group of English tourists who have come ashore from their cruise ship to explore the island of Crete. This motley crew – including a painter, spiritualist, spinster, soldier, convalescent, and elderly couple – are holidaying to seek respite from a broken post-war world. But their journey reaches a disastrous climax when they visit a cave reputed to be the legendary labyrinth of the Minotaur, the monstrous half man-half bull that was eventually vanquished by the Greek hero Theseus, and they become trapped within.

Set in the glorious Greek landscapes which Durrell so famously evoked in his travel writing and novels, The Dark Labyrinth is a morality tale unlike any other. Artfully blending horror and humor, comedy and tragedy, witty allegory and profound philosophy, it is a sublime novel with poetic descriptions. A gripping piece of story-telling, full of atmosphere and Durrell’s vivid first-hand writing about the Cretan landscape and people.

Prospero’s Cell by Lawrence Durrell. Photo: Amazon

Prospero’s Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu is the story of a young man’s escape from a grey, industrialized England to a sunny Greek island. Durrell, later a world famous novelist, had it all: a new wife, a life of swimming, fishing, sailing, reading and writing, good food and wine, colorful new friends, and an island of captivating beauty. Then this enchanting idyll abruptly ends with the onset of World War II and evacuation to Egypt.

The Greek Islands, first published in 1978, weaves evocative descriptions, history and myth, including flowers and festivals, with Durrell’s personal recollections. His writing is steeped in the living experience of the Mediterranean, especially the islands of Greece.

The Greek Islands by Lawrence Durrell. Photo: Amazon

Born in Jalandhar, India, in 1912 to Indian-born British colonials, Durrell was a critically hailed and beloved novelist, poet, humorist, and travel writer. His best known works, the Alexandria Quartet novels, were ranked by the Modern Library as among the greatest works of English literature in the 20th century. A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, he began writing poetry at age 15. Durrell’s prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet- the first novel, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the third novel, Constance (1982), was nominated for the Booker Prize. He also penned the celebrated travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), which won the Duff Cooper Prize. Durrell corresponded with author Henry Miller for 45 years, and Miller influenced much of his early work, including a provocative and controversial novel, The Black Book (1938). Durrell died in France in 1990.

The books mentioned above are available online and in bookstores.

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