“The first piece of work by a new English writer to give me any hope for the future of prose fiction.” —T. S. Eliot
As over-the-top as it is inventive, Durrell’s breakthrough novel is a series of sordid vignettes drawn from the lives of decadent artists, doomed bohemians, and continental rascals inhabiting a shabby London hotel, narrated in turns by the unforgettable Lawrence Lucifer and Gregory Death. Together, these characters seek to escape the absurdity of a Europe haunted by devastating war, yet beginning to pitch toward another apocalypse. First published in 1938, and influenced by Henry Miller and the sincere pranksterism of the surrealist movement, The Black Book marks the emergence of one of the most revolutionary voices in twentieth-century English literature. This ebook contains a new introduction by DBC Pierre.

Ebooks by Lawrence Durrell

ABOUT Lawrence Durrell


    Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990) was a novelist, poet, and travel writer best known for the Alexandria Quartet, his acclaimed series of four novels set before and during World War II in Alexandria, Egypt. Durrell’s work was widely praised, with his Quartet winning the greatest accolades for its rich style and bold use of multiple perspectives. Upon the Quartet’s completion, Life called it “the most discussed and widely admired serious fiction of our time.”

    Born in Jalandhar, British India, in 1912 to Indian-born British colonials, Durrell was an avid and dedicated writer from an early age. He studied in Darjeeling before his parents sent him to England at the age of eleven for his formal education. When he failed to pass his entrance examinations at Cambridge University, Durrell committed himself to becoming an established writer. He published his first book of poetry in 1931 when he was just nineteen years old, and later worked as a jazz pianist to help fund his passion for writing.

    Determined to escape England, which he found dreary, Durrell convinced his widowed mother, siblings, and first wife, Nancy Isobel Myers, to move to the Greek island of Corfu in 1935. The island lifestyle reminded him of the India of his childhood. That same year, Durrell published his first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers. He also read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and, impressed by the notorious novel, he wrote an admiring letter to Miller. Miller responded in kind, and their correspondence and friendship would continue for forty-five years. Miller’s advice and work heavily influenced Durrell’s provocative third novel, The Black Book (1938), which was published in Paris. Though it was Durrell’s first book of note, The Black Book was considered mildly pornographic and thus didn’t appear in print in Britain until 1973.

    In 1940, Durrell and his wife had a daughter, Penelope Berengaria. The following year, as World War II escalated and Greece fell to the Nazis, Durrell and his family left Corfu for work in Athens, Kalamata (also in Greece), then Alexandria, Egypt. His relationship with Nancy was strained by the time they reached Egypt, and they separated in 1942. During the war, Durrell served as a press attaché to the British Embassy. He also wrote Prospero’s Cell, a guide to Corfu, while living in Egypt in 1945.

    Durrell met Yvette Cohen in Alexandria, and the couple married in 1947. They had a daughter, Sappho Jane, in 1951, and separated in 1955. Durrell published White Eagles Over Serbia in 1957, alongside the celebrated memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), which won the Duff Cooper Prize, and Justine (1957), the first novel of the Alexandria Quartet. Capitalizing on the overwhelming success of Justine, Durrell went on to publish the next three novels in the series—Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), and Clea (1960)—in quick succession. Upon the series’ completion, poet Kenneth Rexroth hailed it as “a tour de force of multiple-aspect narrative.”

    Durrell married again in 1961 to Claude-Marie Vincendon, who died of cancer in 1967. His fourth and final marriage was in 1973 to Ghislaine de Boysson, which ended in divorce in 1979.

    After a life spent in varied locales, Durrell settled in Sommières, France, where he wrote the Revolt of Aphrodite series as well as the Avignon Quintet. The first book in the Quintet, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize while Constance (1982), the third novel, was nominated for the Booker Prize.

    Durrell died in 1990 at his home in Sommières.

  • published by