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Lawrence Durrell: Nunquam

This novel is the second in the two-part story, started with Tunc. Indeed, the plot starts fairly soon after the end of Tunc, which concluded with a mysterious shot. Felix Charlock,who may or may not have been the victim of the shot, wakes up in a strange room with a head injury. He soon determines that he is in a sanatorium, where he seems to be recovering from his injury but he is not sure what caused it. He seems to be reunited with his wife, Benedicta, and they have long, friendly and loving discussions, in which she reveals much about her childhood and her relationship with her mysterious brother, Julian, and we learn more about the company they run, Merlin. The standard Durrell odd Englishman, Caradoc, who had appeared in Tunc and then seemed to have died, reappears with his usual cryptic and somewhat obscene classified ads and they meet him and he tells them how he had contacted Julian to rejoin Merlin. They had met on a boat but it was dark and the moon was behind Julian so Caradoc did not see him properly. It seems that Julian may let him back, after a while. When he is a bit better Felix even finally meets Julian. It is up by a ski hut and Julian is in full skiing gear, so Felix does not actually see Julian’s face but Julian is nevertheless friendly.

Julian has a request, which is more than a request. He even goes down on bended knee to ask Felix to help. This request takes up most of the rest of the book. Julian had been in love with Iolanthe but she had died. Julian was now asking Felix and others to build a working model of Iolanthe, what we would call a robot. Work has already started and Felix works with Marchant to build the robot. Durrell goes into great detail on what they do and how they do it, with problems such as recreating the voice (which they manage to do successfully) and, as this is Durrell, with how to create functioning sexual organs. Meanwhile, he learns how Abel, his sophisticated computer, has been dismantled and other changes at Merlin. But we also learn of other activities, such as the invention of Ejax, an ointment which when given to men, increases the amount of semen in an orgasm which, apparently, is far more satisfying for their partner, as well as the creation of a new hallucinogenic drug, far more potent than LSD. Merlin has also discovered magnetic fields in places such as Stonehenge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which they intend to exploit.

The firm was run by Julian and his brother Jocas. Jocas is now dying and we learn about the possible succession as well as the funeral arrangements for Jocas, which include a massive family mausoleum. Iolanthe is gradually nearing completion though there are strange quirks. For example, she manages to phone Julian without actually using a telephone but somehow transmitting her voice down the telephone wires. Of course, when she is complete, as in any good robot novel, she has a mind of her own.

This is very similar to the previous novel – full of somewhat flowery and erudite language, with a science fiction plot, with his intellectual and, occasionally, somewhat obscene jokes and an interesting if not always convincing plot. Like Tunc, it also seems somewhat dated but it still makes for an enjoyable read.

Publishing history

First published 1970 by Faber and Faber