04 October 2012

Review: Reflections on a Marine Venus, by Lawrence Durrell

"Is not Lindos the official beauty-spot of Rhodes? The contrast with Cameirus is remarkable—for where Cameirus is refined, turned in upon itself in sunny contemplation, Lindos is bold, strident. Cameirus has all the stillness of an amphora in a Museum, with its frieze of dancers caught in a timeless dancing; Lindos, under the sweetness of its decoration, is like a trumpet-call, beaten out in gold-leaf and vibrating across the blue airs of time."

Novelist Lawrence Durrell was the oldest brother of naturalist Gerald Durrell, and they shared the ability to write beautifully evocative texts about things that interested them. I must admit that I have never read any of Lawrence's serious fiction, but I have enjoyed his humorous works about life in the diplomatic corps, Esprit de Corps and Stiff Upper Lip, and did not have much left of Bitter Lemons, his travelogue about Cyprus, when I had to return it to the library and then somehow never remembered to borrow it again to finish it.

Reflections... is about his stay in Rhodes, as a press officer for the British Army, in 1945 to 47. His descriptions of the people of the islands, his friends and various events are loving, laid-back and dreamily poetic, exploring friendship, ruins, folk traditions and festivals, comedy, tragedy and the Greek character, and drawing up image after image of Rhodes: shimmering under a blazing summer sun, turning purple in the dusk, quiet and blackened under a starry sky, and sleepy and lazy in the soft light of morning. 

There is no shortage of humour either: 
"The octopus when it appeared looking like a boiled motor-tyre was greeted with shouts of applause. Gideon proposed a toast to it. The octopus was in no condition to reply to these courtesies. It lay bubbling in a rich red sauce flavoured with garlic and peppercorns. Hoyle once more constituted himself taster and repeated 'I was afraid it was going to be a leetle tough but,' putting a piece of the sucker in his mouth, 'praise be it isn't.' It wasn't."
It was with sadness that he left Rhodes for his next posting, but this was just one example of his love-affair with islands, especially Greek ones. He also wrote about Cyprus (in Bitter Lemons) and Corfu (Prospero's Cell). It think I just might have to read those before I tackle his serious fiction.
4+ stars.



1 comment:

Kay said...

I am nearly finished with Reflections and have read Prosper's Cell and will re-read Bitter Lemons as it has been many years since I first read it. In some reviews Durrell's work is described as "overwritten". I think his writing is marvelous. I nearly swoon reading his descriptions of landscapes and the sea.