[ilds] Bitter Lemons as a novel

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Fri Jul 13 20:21:49 PDT 2007

I think this is where biography and 'theory' comfortably meet in a 
productive way.  I'm admittedly not comfortable calling _Bitter Lemons_ 
non-fiction, though the fashionable label "creative non-fiction" might 
suit it better.  I can have a reasonable expectation that the recently 
released Ronald Reagan diaries will be genuine non-fiction, while a 
novelist & poet's travel memoirs (admittedly stocked with "characters") 
obviously don't have quite the same series of expectations.  How we sort 
out those differences isn't something I claim to know in detail, but I 
would suggest our discussion of the topic (apart from specific 
instances) would qualify as a theory...

Michael is quite right (and I suspect he's suggesting something a little 
broader) when he notes that the main players are oddly absent for a 
non-fiction narrative.  Those omissions are as much a 'fictionalization' 
of the materials as factual changes would be.  After all, without Claude 
or Eve, Durrell's time on Cyprus becomes something quite different from 
the biographical 'truth.'

Yet, my thoughts have been wandering for a while around a question posed 
by a short while ago by Charles.  This has since been elaborated by 
others: how do we read _Justine_ beside _Bitter Lemons_?  We've already 
had some good suggestions for the richness in such a reading, for which 
Michael has led the charge.  I think this is a rich vein to strike. 
Also, Durrell acknowledges _BL_ as part of an island trilogy, so to 
speak, and this description encourages the reader to pursue other 

Similarly, since Michael first pointed out that _Justine_ was written 
without an intention of a full Quartet, I've been pondering how I would 
have read it in that first year, fifty years ago.  Durrell openly poses 
_BL_ in relation to _Reflections_ and _Prospero's Cell_, though we as 
readers see an advantage in placing it in conjunction with _Justine_. 
That's our move as readers, and I think it's a good one.

How, then, do we read _Justine_ as a stand alone novel appearing 
concomitantly with _Bitter Lemons_, but as overt fiction?  Personally, I 
think we read it beside _The Black Book_, and that has been troubling me 
ever since Michael's talk last summer.  We have a pretentious narrator 
on a Greek island enjoying the landscape recalling an urban environment 
of his past, which is surrounded by sexual innuendo and a host of 
sexually peculiar characters, all the while with that narrator reading 
the textual evidence left behind by those characters of the abandoned 
city (diaries and letters).

I know this strays from _Bitter Lemons_, but it has been nagging at me. 
  If we're going to look at _BL_ as tied to the travel books, which I 
think is just as viable as tying it to _Justine_, then what do we do 
with _Justine_ in that anna mirabilis of 1957, before _Balthazar_?  I 
suggest we pretend to be readers who have some rare copies of those 
earlier books sitting on our bookshelves.  If my collection only ran to 
1957, I think the comparison between the various volumes would leap out 
readily enough...

To what degree do we see Durrell repeating and improving on the pattern 
he established in _The Black Book_?  Does _Bitter Lemons_ do a similar 
'thickening' of the text in comparison to _Prospero's Cell_, as Clifford 
Geertz might phrase it?  If that's the case, what does it mean for 
_Bitter Lemons_ if we read it as a development out of the same spirit of 
inquiry that drove Durrell's search for the spirit of place on Corfu and 


Michael Haag wrote:
> The first edition of Bitter Lemons has photographs of Grivas, Field 
> Marshal Sir John Harding, the Hodja, Clito, Frangos, Andreas 
> Thalassinos, Andreas Menas, Kollis, Sabri Tahir, the Muktar, Loizus and 
> Lalou. But there is no photograph of Marie, who was Marie 
> Millington-Drake; she was real. Nor of the person under observation, nor 
> the daughter, nor of Durrell's mother, but they were real too, as were 
> various others. Then there are the people who were real and who were 
> there but are not mentioned, the most glaring example being Claude, 
> without whom ...

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