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  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

Where'd She Go?

It is near the end of Justine that the reader is shown the “how” of Justine’s disappearance, as well as other plot points previously referenced. On page three of the text proper, we’re told right away that at a point in the past Nessim still believed Justine would return to him, that Nessim went “mad,” and that Melissa died. We don’t know at the outset who these folks are but we do know about these significant events that have already occurred. From then on, we are cued that the story will tell us how Justine disappeared, how Nessim went mad, and how Melissa died. How and also who these characters are. It would be quite different if the story began with Darley meeting Nessim and Justine in the midst of his love affair with Melissa, and then embarking on a liaison with Justine. Instead, just to hammer home my point, we know right off what happens.

It is roughly one hundred fifty pages later that we get the climax.

“When the time for the great yearly shoot on Lake Mareotis came round, Nessim began to experience a magical sense of relief. He recognized at last that what had to be decided would be decided at this time and at no other.”

This “shoot” is an event that Nessim arranges where many of the characters in the book participate in a duck hunt which is elegantly planned for these privileged folk, rather like a British fox hunt. Thousands of the little quackers are slaughtered. This bloody event occurs in the context of Nessim knowing that his wife Justine is having an affair with Darley, and that Darley and Justine know that he knows and fear his reaction.

The implied author actually hides Nessim’s intentions, as the narrative about Nessim’s thoughts is drawn through Darley’s perspective as well as his reading of Nessim’s diary. At no time, is Nessim described as wanting to murder Darley. However, he is described as being insanely jealous of his wife’s infidelities and as being very rich and powerful.

Justine, anticipating murder, asks Darley not to go on the duck hunt. “’You are not to tempt providence. Will you? Answer me.’ And as if to make persuasion certain she slipped off her skirt and shoes and fell softly into bed beside me…” But Darley is not persuaded (?) and accepts the invitation, wondering if it will lead to his death.

However, he survives. After murdering some ducks, he learns the awful truth. Capodistria, the mysterious man who raped Justine when she was younger, has been found dead—“clearly an accident,” according to the official story. And Justine has taken off. Nessim’s servant approaches Darley and says: “Master, the lady has gone. There is a letter for you at the house.”

So in a surprise development, it appears that, instead of Darley, Nessim may have had the man who raped his wife murdered. And Justine, that eternal scamp, ends the affair and the danger by leaving town. The contents of her letter to Darley are not revealed.

It is Clea who reveals to a distraught Darley that Justine has gone to Palestine where she is working on a kibbutz. And this leaves Darley wondering if she really loved him and causes him to mope around for years trying to figure things out. Clea also hints rather directly that if Darley will have her, she would like to join him on the island.

“The cicadas are throbbing in the great planes, and the summer Mediterranean lies before me in all its magnetic blueness. Somewhere, out there, beyond the mauve throbbing line of the horizon lies Africa, lies Alexandria, maintaining its tenuous grasp on one’s affections through memories which are already refunding themselves slowly into forgetfulness; memory of friends, of incidents long past. The slow unreality of time begins to grip them, blurring the outlines—so that sometimes I wonder if these pages record the actions of real human beings; or whether this is not simply the story of a few inanimate objects which precipitated drama around them—I mean a black patch, a watch-key, and a couple of dispossessed wedding rings.

(These are all significant objects in the text—Capodistria’s eye patch, Balthazar’s watch-key, and Cohen’s wedding rings that he’d wished he’d given to Melissa).

“…I have decided to leave Clea’s last letter unanswered. I know longer wish to coerce anyone, to make promises, to think of life in terms of compacts, resolutions, covenants. It will be up to Clea to interpret my silence according to her own needs and desires, to come to me if she has need or not. Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?”

So Justine ends. Darley has taken a passive position here—which is consistent with his character. He remains troubled by the sense that he was mistaken about Justine and the others and apparently continues his bookish study on the island. There’s a sense in which he is shown not wanting to know more.


I don’t think we’re quite done with Justine, best beloved. However, an announcement. There will be a break in the action. Dena and I are going away on a trip. I will re-charge a bit, and this blog will return on April 20.

Till then.

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