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.”

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.