I’ve already posted once about this challenge, but the rule is post on March 1st. Well, it is the 2nd, but I arrived in Bogota on Monday,and yesterday was a bit of a blur.
The book I’ve chosen for this month is Balthazar, by Lawrence Durrell, part of a 4 part series, The Alexandria Quartet, that looks at the same events through the eyes of three different people, the 4th book brings the perspectives together. I missed the 1st book, Justine, and hope someday to come across a copy of it. Hopefully by the time I get to the end, I will be able to put together her story.
To say the stories are character driven would be redundant. But the author draws such sympathetic and humane personages it makes me wish to have known him, or someone like him, because he must have been a keen and sensitive observer. Such writers could have had careers as anthropologists, or detectives.
Though Durrell says that the series is not meant to be serial, the beginning of Balthazar feels a bit in medias res, but that actually made me pay better attention as the story unfolded in a sort of backhanded way. You figure out the relationships in a way that feels rather natural, like coming into a workplace, or the middle of a party–a situation where you have to pay close attention to the relationships in order to get the whole picture. Except in this case, you are getting only a part of the picture from one perspective at a time, and then you have to move on to another co-worker or guest to get a fuller sense of things.
In less astute hands this would feel like a manipulation, a way to get you into the next book. But Mr. Durrell has a different agenda. He is playing with perspectivism the way a great painter might. He is exploring relativism and partiality. Early in Balthazar, the author reflects on this problem:
“We live” writes Pursewarden somewhere, “lives based upon selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time–not by our personalities as we like to think. Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.” Something of this order. . . .
So, we have 3 main characters with three unique, and also unstable, perspectives. This is a very modern take on the human condition. The author was writing in the 40s and 50s, at a time when existentialism influenced writers, and just prior to the time when the post-modern, decentered subject would pose a new challenge. I like how this author bridges these periods and philosophical problems.
So, it is the first of March and I have not gotten half-way into Balthazar. I have changed towns and have much vying for my attention. This morning the choice is reading, or visiting the Botero Museum, here in Bogota. I’ll bet back to the reading.
Good luck with the challenge, if you care to join.