Caesar's Vast Ghost: Aspects of Provence

by Lawrence Durrell

Hardcover, 1990




Arcade Pub (1990)


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

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LibraryThing member richardderus
Caesar's Vast Ghost by Lawrence Durrell. Subtitled Aspects of Provence, this gorgeously illustrated trip through Mr. Durrell's experiences in Provence over the course of three-quarters of a century (1920s to 1990s) was a delight. I don't habitually read books of the An Italian Education or Toujours Provence ilk. I tend to want to experience a place for myself, or simply not to care about it. This is an excellent book, though, because it's not larded through with carefully thought out "random musings" or cursed with the destination-article breathlessness that I experience in so many place-books.

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.
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LibraryThing member nemoman
This is one of my two favorite books on Provence, the other being Ford Maddoxx Ford's book "Provence". Durell spent his last years in Provence and this book does a great job of capturing its history and culture. Mayle's books are fun, junk food; this book is a seven course, five-hour meal at a three-star Michelin restaurant.


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