Provence, where Lawrence Durrell lived for thirty years, is the motif of this final work, published just before his death. It is a highly personal and unusual book, part travelogue, part writer's notebook, part autobiography. It preserves memories from his intimate experience of the Midi, and scattered through the evocative text are nineteen poems inspired by the genius of the place. 'A richly characteristic bouillabaisse by our last great garlicky master of the vanishing Mediterranean, our old Prospero of the south; poet, travel writer, novelist and fumiste . . .' Richard Holmes, The Times
Durrell's prose is a polarizing factor about the book. One will either enjoy its lyricism (eg, "What are the French really like? ...I found myself thinking back to my own early youth, to the first shock of my encounter--at about twenty years of age--with Paris. It was like a sudden unpremeditated chord on the piano--a chord I had never struck before. The city was full of a subtle sort of oxygen which mounted to the head." p27) or be repulsed by its phony-tony-ness (example above again). I was about evenly split in my decisions on his style, but in the end I felt I had so much more pleasure from it than I had wincing pains, that I came down on the plus side.
The lovely object of the book itself is a sheer pleasure to hold. It's an oversized book, though not a huge one; it's a four-color book with many nicely chosen images to illuminate the text. Arcade Publishing bought the book in from Faber and Faber, the UK originators of it, back in 1990-91. Its beautiful four-color endpapers, a riot of color in a drawing by one Oscar Epfs (of whom I have never heard), are exemplary of something I miss in today's more somber book production: A sense of the object "book" as a desideratum of its own, separate from whatever merits and qualities the text might have.
I don't recommend this to fans of Peter Mayle, but rather to fans of lyrical prose and leisurely impressionistic immersive reads.