Lawrence Durrell is best known for his Alexandria Quartet, and his writings about travel in the Greek isles. As a long time resident of the islands and a diplomat in war-time Greece during World War II, he came to know and love the islands. I’m a huge fan of his Greece travel books, in particular The Greek Islands.
Some time ago I learned of The Dark Labyrinth, a novel set on the island of Crete (originally published under the title Cefalu). I bought a copy a long time ago and finally got a chance to read it, it’s been out of print for a long time. A group of travelers head to Crete to explore the Labyrinth and find the rumored Minotaur.
The early part of the novel has the travelers on an ocean liner headed to the Mediterranean, each for their own reasons. Durrell gradually exposes us to the travelers, their lives and reasons for heading to the Mediterranean. Durrell absolutely skewers the pretensions of the passengers. The first half of the book almost feels like a comedy of manners or an A. S. Byatt novel fifty years early. I found myself laughing out loud, which doesn’t happen to me very often.
As the ship stops at Crete and the passengers sign up for a tour of the Labyrinth and to search for the legendary Minotaur, we enter Durrell’s Greece. The thyme-scented mountains, the stories of the Greek resistance’s mountain hideaways, abbots and monks and peasants, and the natural beauty of Greece come to the fore. The passengers encounter a disaster while in the labyrinth, and each finds their own fate while trying to escape. A bit of Greek legend, and bit of “Lost Horizons” bring the novel to an interesting philosophical close.
The Dark Labyrinth doesn’t rise to the level of the Alexandria Quartet, but it’s good read, particularly for those who are interested in Durrell or the Greek islands.