The Black Book is a clear precursor to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, especially the first book, Justine. It draws from the hallucinogenic writing of the surrealists. But unlike Justine, it doesn’t have that deep connection to place. While his Alexandria is a hallucinogenic city of memory, it is also a very real city to the reader. I can barely tell where The Black Book takes place. I mean, it’s obviously London, but neither the city nor the residential hotel where much of the action takes place. Ironically, the Greek island of Corfu, where the narrator is ‘writing’ the book we know as , is far more real and vibrant than locale where the action (if you can call it that; there is not plot in the traditional sense) takes place.
This is a angry, young man’s book. An angry fellow not quite resolved to live in the world, instead of his own angry, sexual, and frustrated desires.
Durrell made a good choice to move himself and his writings to the sunnier, ancient, and more deliciously decadent climes of the Mediterranean. Not that a good, sexy, spiritual, and surrealistic book can’t be made out of the stuff of London, only that Lawrence was never the man to do it.