Monsieur fascinates, is full of many interesting possibilities, yet does not quite succeed. Durrell, sadly, does not develop more fully the many curious, inter-linked themes that he interjects along the tortuous way of this novel within a novel. In fact, one often gets the feeling that Durrell himself—-like most of his characters—was never quite sure what shape this novel would take and literally improvised as he went along.

Durrell’s central concerns remain the same and Monsieur is very much in continuation of Nunquam. Once again he explores the worlds of erotic experience, of reality and illusion with the implied conclusion that there is no demarcation between the two: ‘By a singular paradox the passages that he knew would be regarded as unreal (‘people don’t behave like that’) would be the truth, and the rest which rang somehow true, the purest fabrication.’ Yet Durrell is merely repeating a well-known cliche though his vehicle for doing so is intriguing. … .

Durrell uses this theme of gnosticism as the ruling motive for all his characters. Most of the action centres around Piers de Nogaret— the rather down-at-heel scion of a famous family amongst whose ancestors was a Knight Templar—inhabiting his medieval mansion, Verfeuille…. Also present in this complex tale is Toby—a dissolute Oxford don researching the history of the Templars through Piers’s family papers. Not very unexpectedly, he comes to the conclusion that the reason why the Templars were suddenly dethroned from their position of super-eminence in the year 1307 was because they were tainted with the heresy of gnosticism which they ‘contracted’ while fighting in the Middle East.

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