Love — wanton, all-consuming, passionate love — is the theme of Lawrence Durrell’s classic romantic novel, Justine, set in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Two couples are inexorably drawn to each other in a romantic entanglement that ends in death and separation and the birth of a girl who finds a home with the narrator, the English schoolmaster Darley. She is the motherless child of the woman who loved him, by the husband of the woman he loved.
Such are the toils of love when the woman at the centre is Justine — the beautiful, imperious, elusive Jewess, Justine, who, the narrator learns from an autobiographical novel written by her former French Albanian husband, can never give or take satisfaction in love because every time she has sex with a lover, she re-imagines being seduced as a young girl by a relative.
But that makes her no less desirable to the narrator and her present husband, “Prince” Nessim, a Coptic merchant prince, who are both hopelessly in love with her.
Others pay the price. The husband has his revenge — or so it is believed — on the relative, who dies in a duckshoot accident.
And the other victim is Melissa. Sweet Melissa. The Greek cabaret dancer who loved the narrator unconditionally — and knew, though they stayed together, Justine was the woman he loved.
But, instead of leaving him, she told Nessim about the affair he was having with his wife.
That was how she ended up having a baby by Nessim — two dejected lovers seeking consolation in each other.