As we enter the second week of August the skies throughout the day have been overcast; the temperature over cold; the breeze underwhelming; so I donned a jacket, remained inside, and spent the day finishing my reading of the final volume of Lawrence Durrell’s Avignon Quintet,

the book jacket of which is illustrated by David Gentleman.

As the characters from the five works gather for the last time the narrator, Blanford, considers that he is now in a position to write the book that they have been helping him put together. These volumes are of course it.

We are now experiencing the aftermath of the Second World War with its reprisals, its War Crimes trials, and the beginnings of the consequential population readjustments and migrations.

Themes of sexuality, love, lust, and the nature and power of orgasm continue; triangular relationships, incest, and orientation are underlying – this is managed with non-pornographic eroticism. The search for the mythical treasure of the Templars remains a thread which seems about to be snapped.

Whilst I would agree with the blurb-writer’s observation of Durrell’s magical descriptive writing, I think the best of this is contained in the earlier chapter concerning the converging of the European gypsy tribes where, long before the writer used the phrase “human tide”, his fluent prose described just that ebb and flow, managing the varying lengths of his superb sentences to evoke the essence of the gathering stream.

Particularly in the first chapter and the notebook section, the author enjoys amusing wordplay like puns (in either English or French) and misquotations, all of which exemplify his apparent ease with language.

This evening we all dined on further helpings of yesterday’s Monday pie with fresh vegetables and the same beverages, followed by Berry Strudel


This fourth novel of Lawrence Durrell’s Avignon quintet is another celebration of his divine prose linking the patchwork of episodes containing his themes of love triangles; gnosticism; the Inquisition; sexuality; psychiatric conditions; suicide; murder; and rivalry, all involving the narrator and his invented characters as they assist the writer in bringing his work towards completion.

Durrell’s descriptive language, his insight into humanity, and the pace of his narrative carry the reader along at a sometimes exciting rate, although it is helpful to understand the metafiction genre that has become clear to me in working my way through the series.

I do not possess the next book in the series, and, although I determined about 15 years ago not to acquire any more books, I am tempted to break that resolution.

David Gentleman has once again provided the book jacket on the reverse of which appears an accurate blurb.


This third novel of Lawrence Durrell’s Avignon quincunx contains the very best of his splendidly lucid prose, and more. Set during the period of the Second World War, the author demonstrates an ability to sustain lengthy periods of activity with all his adverbial and adjectival prowess, carrying us along apace with him. The narrative flows enough throughout the central sequences for us to forget that this is metafiction. His themes include an understanding of motives and conflicts about wartime activities; of the herd instincts and imposed fear that cause people to follow without question; of the position of women in society which can take many years to shift, despite hard fought changes in legislation; of a deep understanding of the nature of sexuality in love, in lust, and in the psyche.

The underlying sexual thread running through the work reaches a crescendo midway, as does the aftermath of war in an occupied city in the closing chapters, perhaps the most powerful in a powerful book.

David Gentleman has once more provided the book jacket.


It is perhaps the former cruciverbalist in me that prompted me to take up the Finnegan’s Wake challenge when I read that it contained sextilingual puns; or to persevere with Lawrence Durrell’s quincunx, of which “Livia, or Buried Alive” is the second book.

I failed Joyce’s challenge, giving up after 200 pages.

I am however getting somewhere with Durrell. This is because I am beginning to understand how metafiction works. Just as there was no sense in approaching Finnegan’s Wake as a chronological narrative this is the wrong way to appreciate Durrell’s work, which opens with a conversation between the narrator and one of his creations on the subject of autobiography, which in itself has echoes of our author’s own life story.

Set in the decade building up to the Second World War, I rather see the work as a series of tales concerning imaginary people who are not actually present, even when narrator Blanford is conversing with them. We have difficult early years; nocturnal wanderings around Avignon; discussions of fears about the conflict to come; a privileged wealthy libertine; some unpleasantly sordid revels suggestive of child abuse – all with Durrell’s glorious poetic prose. It is not easy, but so far is worth the effort.

Once again the Book Jacket is illustrated by David Gentleman’.

David William Gentleman RDI (born 11 March 1930) is an English artist. He studied art and painting at the Royal College of Art under Edward Bawdenand John Nash. He has worked in watercolour, lithography and wood engraving, at scales ranging from platform-length murals for Charing Cross Underground Station in London to postage stamps and logos.

His themes include paintings of landscape and environmental posters to drawings of street life and protest placards. He has written and illustrated many books, mostly about countries and cities. He also designed a number of British commemorative postage stamps.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Gentleman

Slipped inside the front flap of this jacket is a browned cutting from The Times newspaper of 21st September 1978, on the basis of which I bought this first edition.


Although I wasn’t totally enamoured with Laurence Durrell’s novel Justine, https://derrickjknight.com/2023/05/12/justine/ I was so entranced by his splendidly fluid prose as to turn to the quincunx beginning with

This gave me a better understanding of the notebook quality of the first of the Alexandria quartet.

In one sense Durrell is using his writer characters to take us through the process of working on a novel – this one. We are shown how jotted ideas develop into a final work; and how the characters take their own control of the narrative. I now understand that this is a piece of metafiction: “a form of fiction that emphasises its own narrative structure in a way that continually reminds the audience that they are reading or viewing a fictional work. Metafiction is self-conscious about language, literary form, and story-telling, and works of metafiction directly or indirectly draw attention to their status as artifacts.[1]Metafiction is frequently used as a form of parody or a tool to undermine literary conventions and explore the relationship between literature and reality, life, and art.[2]” (Wikipedia)

Once again the author sets his work in Mediterranean countries – essentially in Avignon. His themes include their history and the very structure and nature of the lands themselves. Conventional boundaries between sexual relationships are eschewed – triangular relationships including those of homosexual and bisexual nature are consistent undercurrents, reflecting the Gnostic triangle of two men and one woman, in the case of the main protagonists also involving incest. His exploration of the mythical sects, and in particular the downfall of the Knights Templar are engaging. Perhaps it is the writer’s fascination with gnosticism that evoked the theme of suicide or arranged time of death.

We never do quite know for certain which characters are real. The final section is both revealing and enigmatic.

The fluid prose remains sublime. Durrell’s apparently easily constructed elegant sentences, none of which displays corpulence, contain copious descriptive adjectives and adverbs, always enhancing his meaning.

My 1974 first edition bears the bookplate of John Retallack.

I had lined up ‘Doctor Zhivago’ for my next read. Pasternak will have to wait for my next Avignon read.

The Lady In The Van


Today, Jackie drove me to and from New Milton for me to travel to London for lunch with Norman. There was not one available seat on the train until I had a stroke of luck. In search of any possibility I walked through to the third packed carriage of the five that comprised this morning’s transport vehicle. Other hopeful travellers walked towards, and past, me in their own fruitless hunt. Suddenly a young man rose to his feet and retrieved a violin case from the luggage rack. He didn’t sit down again. In response to my enquiry he replied that he was leaving the train at the next stop. As I relaxed into position I reflected that, had he been my maternal grandfather, he would probably have uttered the rhetorical question: “would you be in my grave as quick?”.

Five more carriages were added at Southampton Central where we learned the reason for the crush. It was, of course, Wimbledon week. This also necessitated an additional stop for the tennis.

Preston Road

From Waterloo, I travelled by Jubilee and Metropolitan underground lines to Preston Road, and walked down that street to

The Preston

The Preston, where Norman was waiting, and we each enjoyed the same acceptable lunch of gammon steaks followed by Eton messes. We shared an excellent bottle of Fico Grande Sangiovese, followed by lukewarm double espresso coffees. The one and a half staff on the bar did their pleasant very best.

Alan Bennett

On my outward journey I finished reading Alan Bennett’s ‘Keeping on Keeping on’.

This massive tome written in Bennett’s idiosyncratic style includes diaries from 2005 to 2015; short essays and newspaper articles; two playlets; and his experience of filming The Lady in the Van.

The diaries are fascinating for the author’s take on years still in my own memory. Of the plays I preferred ‘Denmark Hill’ ‘a darkly comic radio play set in suburban South London’ which has particular appeal for one who grew up in Wimbledon.

This is Wikipedia’s opening section on The Lady in the Van:

‘The Lady in the Van is a 2015 British[2] comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, and starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. It tells the true story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lived in a dilapidated van on Bennett’s driveway in London for 15 years.[5] Smith previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the original 1999 theatrical production, which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards[6] and in the 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation.[7]

Hytner directed the original stage production at the Queen’s Theatre in London, while Bennett adapted the screenplay from his 1999 West End play of the same name, which was nominated at the 2000 Olivier Awards for Play of the Year. The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival[8] and received largely positive reviews from critics.’

Having seen and enjoyed this delightful film I was pleased to find the book closing with Bennett’s filming diary of the production.

The Lady In The Van

The successful and versatile artist David Gentleman was a neighbour of Bennett’s when the author lived in Camden Town’s Gloucester Terrace. He has produced some charming vignettes for this section of the book.

My reading on the return journey was Spirit of Love by Ramanlal Morarjee. I am enjoying this novel and will comment further when I have finished it.