Graham Greene – One of My Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century

This is the second in a series.

Graham Greene

Born:   October 2, 1904    Died:   April 3, 1991

I came to reading Graham Greene relatively late in my reading career, not until the late 1990s.  Up until that time I had these misguided ideas about Greene that he was a spy genre novelist or that he was a Catholic novelist. My first Greene novel then was ‘The Heart of the Matter’ which I thought was magnificent.  I quickly started reading novel after novel by Greene.  The one novel that really took my breath away was his early ‘Brighton Rock’ about these young guys chasing through the streets and lanes of Brighton, England.  But his novels have a uniform quality, and just about any of them will be fine.  I have read about fifteen so far.

Greene’s novels range from settings in Africa (‘The Heart of the Matter’) to Asia (‘The Quiet American’) to Latin America (‘The Honorary Consul, ‘The Power and the Glory’, ‘Our Man in Havana’) to England.  He was a novelist of the world.

What I like about Greene is that he is a good-natured compassionate writer who tells great stories.  Also his characters seem to have more underlying depth than most writers’ characters.  In one of his novels, Greene writes:

“Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.”

There are some individuals who are worse than others, but we all share in the guilt to some extent.  Individual people are not pure evil or pure good in Greene novels, and that makes his characters more realistic and human. Greene’s characters wrestle with their own particular guilt. No one is let off the guilt hook, but at the same time no one is eternally doomed on Earth. Also his tolerant view of humanity allows Greene to have a sense of humor about his characters.

Martin Seymour Smith does criticize Greene by saying “His most serious deficiency is his failure to portray women ‘in the round’.  I am not sure I agree with Smith.  I would recommend women to read ‘The End of the Affair’ which is a fiction supposedly based on Greene’s own extramarital affair and probably contains his deepest portrayal of a female character.

Fiction by Graham Greene that I strongly recommend:  ‘Brighton Rock’, ‘The Heart of the Matter’, ‘The End of the Affair’, ‘Our Man in Havana’, ‘A Burnt-Out Case’, ‘The Quiet American’ and about a dozen others.

Quotes about Graham Greene

“I asked for The Heart of the Matter for Christmas in 1947. I suddenly thought, here is this man who can represent ordinary life, ordinary troubles, and make them exciting to read about.” – Shirley Hazzard

“He will be missed all over the world. Until today, he was our greatest living novelist.” – Kingsley Amis for Greene’s Obituary

“He is deepest in my head in the way he looks at the world with a mixture of, I think, kindness and honesty. I feel he’s very undiluted. And he’s really determined to look at the most difficult, dark parts of himself and the world.” – Pico Iyer

“Any writer would envy an imagination of such irresistible contrapuntal thrust – he never lacked a story, he was drowning in them. He famously said that childhood is the credit balance of the novelist, and Greene’s childhood – the misery of his public school, the power struggles with his headmaster father, the teenage seduction of his own psychiatrist’s wife, the flirtations with madness and God – well, he was never, ever going to be in the red. There are many natural storytellers in English literature, but what was rare about Greene was the control he wielded over his abundant material. Certainly one can imagine nobody who could better weave the complicated threads of war-torn Indochina into a novel as linear, as thematically compact and as enjoyable as The Quiet American.” – Zadie Smith

“His (Greene’s) obvious strengths, some of them leaving him vulnerable, are extreme fluency and professionalism, power, the ability to create clear-cut characters and sound plots. His capacity to convey atmospheres of oppression has hardly been equaled in English.” – Martin Seymour-Smith

Quotes from Graham Greene

“Our worst enemies are not the ignorant and simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt.”

“We praise heroes as though they are rare, and yet we are always ready to blame another man for lack of heroism.”

 

 

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17 responses to this post.

  1. I agree – he’s a remarkable novelist, and “The Ministry of Fear” is one of my favourites. I often find that the novels he classed as ‘entertainments’ have surprising depths and are never just surface level tales.

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      Yes, ‘Ministry of Fear’ is another one of his early novels that holds up well. I’m not sure about his division between “Entertainments” and “Novels” either. ‘Our Man in Havana” would be considered an Entertainment, and it is humorous, but still it makes some strong points. Basically Greene’s depth of insight shows up in all his work.

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  2. What a wonderful review of Greene. I have heard such conflicting reports of him (mostly about his strong links to Catholicism). I am on an Orwell kick at the moment but I think it is time to delve into Greene a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi TravellinPenguin,
      All that talk about Greene being a Catholic writer scared me away from him for a long time, but then when I actually read him, I took to his novels like a duck takes to water, and I’m a Protestant. It helps that my political outlook is similar to Graham Greene’s.

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  3. I love him too, and I’m really enjoying this series. How about hosting a Graham Greene ‘week’ some time? I’d be happy to contribute:)

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  4. I’ve read End of the Affair, and tried Brighton Rock, but couldn’t really get into it.

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  5. I’ve read most of his novels over the years. You’re right about his consistency and the depth of his characters.I really should re-read those novels I read decades ago. One of my favourites is Dr Fischer…

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    • Hi Annabel,
      ‘Dr, Fischer of Gewneva or The Bomb Party’ is one that I have not read. as well as a few of the early ones before ‘Brighton Rock’, although I did read ‘Stamboul Train’.
      One thing I might get around to are Graham Greene’s movie reviews, but I’m not sure if they are collected or not.

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  6. One mine too have most of his books on my shelves

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  7. I recently read Travels With My Aunt and found it a great romp: darkly funny in places but with a serious moral undertone about not wasting your life.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Kim,
      Yes, ‘Travels With my Aunt’ is one which Greene would classify as an entertainment and which I put off until near the end of my Greene reading because for a long time I thought it was a memoir. However I also found it to be surprisingly enlightening when I did read it. It is indeed fiction.

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  8. Heart of the matter is the standout novel for me. Closely followed by The End of the Affair. But to be frank. It’s hard to find a bad Greene novel.

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