[ilds] Bitter Lemons - a black patch, a watch key and a couple of dispossessed wedding rings

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Tue Jul 10 03:49:31 PDT 2007

Leaving the external situation to one side, there is also Durrell's 
personal situation on Cyprus that he alludes to very strongly 
throughout, though alludes to more by silences framed by incomplete 
statements.  The book begins and ends with mention of 'my daughter'.  
We know how he manages to look after his daughter because he mentions 
'my mother'.  But there is no mention of the daughter's mother, though 
there is an unexplained reference to a lunatic asylum at the beginning 
of the book.  Then there is Marie, but nothing ever happens with Marie. 
  There are ruminative moments when Durrell considers his future, but he 
excludes any references to women from these scenes; nevertheless one 
suspects that a woman is involved, and her name is not Marie.  Together 
with the heavy drinking, this might strike a reader as odd; it might 
strike a reader as significant.  This island of bitter lemons, as 
Durrell writes in his poem, 'Tortures memory and revises / Habits half 
a lifetime dead'.  As Durrell packs to leave the island he finds the 
old wicker basket 'full of fragments collected by my daughter' (not 
mentioning that his daughter has already been taken from him by the 
woman previously associated with the lunatic asylum).  'Roman glass, 
blue and vitreous as the summer sea in deep places; handles of amphorae 
from Salamis with the hallmark thumb printed in the soft clay; tiles 
from the floor of the villa near Paphos; verde antico fragments; Venus' 
ear seashells; a Victorian penny; fragments of yellow mosaic from some 
Byzantine church; purple murex; desiccated sea urchins and white chalk 
squid bones; a tibia; fragments of a bird's egg; a green stone against 
the evil eye.  All in all a sort of record of our stay in Cyprus' -- 
the lonely objects that are the falling empires of a man's life.  
'"Throw all this away", I said.'


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