Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet is, to me, quite simply the finest book of the twentieth century. Within it's pages it contains an assortment of characters that wrap you up into their lives and loves and sweep you off your feet amongst the streets and buildings of the city of Alexandria, itself a character of the books.
The Quartet is formed of four books: Justine, Balthasar, Mountolive and Clea. Three of which are written by the same narrator. In each book he peels back a further layer of life and discovers that what he thought to be true was in fact false, time is just a variable that sweeps back and forth as half hidden remembrances are revealed and then veiled again. Characters become as much friends despite the fact that to a man, they are the oddest assortment ever assembled in a novel. There are close to 30 or even 40 main characters contained within the book and each of them has a story that intertwines with the rest.
Durrell's writing is like that of a shattered stained glass window pieced together again in fragments, each paragraph radiating with astounding prose of unforgettable beauty and fitting in somewhere to the jigsaw that you will not see until you reach the final page of the final book. And then you'll read it all over again to reassure yourself that you've just read such a work. The set pieces are unforgettable, every one of them etches itself into the memory with blistering fire. Narouz at the mansion, Pombal's final tragedy, the Carnival, the Duck Shoot that closes Justine and Scobie's elevation to local Deity as you become part of this dissolute group of friends and become part of their rises and falls. It is impossible not to become a part of the book, impossible not to fall for it, impossible not to shed a tear at the end for all things coming to an end.
Time has not been especially kind to Durrell, His reputation has not lasted in the mainstream like that of his lifelong friend Henry Miler, but I guarantee that The Alexandria Quartet will be one of the finest things you will ever read.