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text 2017-04-07 23:00
Tim Pigott-Smith
Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene

I just learned of the passing of Tim Pigott-Smith. :(

 

He was a fine actor and I always looked out for audiobooks he narrated as he had a great way with voices.

 

The first audiobook I had of his was Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt and it is only a fitting tribute that I should repeat that listening experience this weekend.

 

The re-read, or re-listen, is on!

 

(Oh, and Lillelara may have helped with the re-read decision, too ;) )

 

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review 2015-08-16 17:02
The Quiet American
The Quiet American - Graham Greene

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

 

The Quiet American is Greene's exploration of relationships and politics against the backdrop of the conflict in Vietnam in the early 1950s.

 

Thinking about it, this is really an amazing book and shows Greene's ability to observe current affairs - and look behind smokescreens. The "amazing" aspect of the book is that it was published in 1955, a decade before the conflict in Vietnam would become so prominent in the social and political agendas of not only the US but many other western countries.

 

Greene's novel tells the story of three characters - each a symbol for a distinct interest group - a Vietnamese woman torn between a cynical Brit and a "quiet" American. "Quiet" because Greene contrasts him to a brash compatriot, another CIA agent whose task is to undermine the Communist "renegades".  

 

Without going into the story and revealing too much, this is a tense but slow read with one of the best endings of a Greene novel that reflects on the futility of political martyrdom and sacrifices made for the greater good. 

 

‘Yes. They killed him because he was too innocent to live. He was young and ignorant and silly and he got involved. He had no more of a notion than any of you what the whole affair’s about, and you gave him money and York Harding’s books on the East and said, “Go ahead. Win the East for Democracy.” He never saw anything he hadn’t heard in a lecture-hall, and his writers and his lecturers made a fool of him. When he saw a dead body he couldn’t even see the wounds. A Red menace, a soldier of democracy.’

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review 2015-08-16 16:04
Loser Takes All
Loser Takes All - Graham Greene

I SUPPOSE the small greenish statue of a man in a wig on a horse is one of the famous statues of the world. I said to Cary, ‘Do you see how shiny the right knee is? It’s been touched so often for luck, like St Peter’s foot in Rome.’

She rubbed the knee carefully and tenderly as though she were polishing it.

‘Are you superstitious?’ I said. ‘

Yes.’

‘I’m not.’

‘I’m so superstitious I never walk under ladders. I throw salt over my right shoulder. I try not to tread on the cracks in pavements. Darling, you’re marrying the most superstitious woman in the world. Lots of people aren’t happy. We are. I’m not going to risk a thing.’

 

There is not much I can say about Loser Takes All other than it is a delightful story of a newlywed couple on honeymoon. I have heard Loser Takes All being compared to Coward's Private Lives and just for once I have to admit that this comparison also came to my mind when reading Greene's story. 

However, where wit and humor and sheer slapstick in Private Lives shows a couple (or two) that is very sure of itself, Greene's approach is different: His story is based on a couple who isn't sure of anything at all, and in the course of the book, this uncertainty keeps the story interesting.

 

"ONE adapts oneself to money much more easily than to poverty: Rousseau might have written that man was born rich and is everywhere impoverished."

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review 2015-08-16 15:13
The Tenth Man
The Tenth Man - Graham Greene

"He envied Jules: to have been able to remain ‘correct’: to have saved his self-respect by small doses of rudeness or inattention. But for him— to have remained correct would have meant death."

 

The Tenth Man is not just a story but a moral experiment: A group of prisoners of war are told that as punishment for the killing of occupying forces by the local resistance movement, one in ten prisoners would be executed. It is up to the prisoners to draw lots.

 

From this Greene develops a tale of moral conflict, perceptions of heroism and cowardice, of pretense and being true to character, and it all starts, not with the draw, but with one of the chosen offering to buy his life in exchange for all his possessions. 

 

I really enjoyed the premise of the story and - needless to say - Greene's writing. However, the introduction of the love story and ending of the book left me wanting more of a development of the original dilemma - Chavel having to deal with his conscience - rather than focusing the story on the ensuing love triangle and resolving all the issues in a rather convenient manner. Not that Greene does not often chose to resolve his characters' conflicts in the same manner, but in this book in particular, I felt the story itself would have offered a less clean-cut conclusion.

 

However, this story was written around the same time as the The Third Man, and Greene intended it to work as a screenplay, in which case a more ambiguous ending would not have worked. At least not if he needed to sell the story to a film studio. 

 

Having read Greene's novels there is a distinct difference between early works written for film and later works, many of which were eventually turned into films. The early works, The Tenth Man included, tend to be limited in developing characters and ideas, whereas the later ones thrive on both and allow Greene's writing to develop another dimension.

 

"The paper lay on the floor beside him, scrawled over with almost illegible writing. He never knew that his signature read only Jean-Louis Ch … which stood of course as plainly for Charlot as for Chavel. A crowning justice saw to it that he was not troubled. Even a lawyer’s meticulous conscience was allowed to rest in peace."

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review 2015-08-16 14:18
The Ministry of Fear
The Ministry of Fear - Alan Furst,Graham Greene

‘In that case,’ Rowe said, ‘I keep the cake because you see I guessed three pounds five the first time. Here is a pound for the cause. Good evening.’

He’d really taken them by surprise this time; they were wordless, they didn’t even thank him for the note. He looked back from the pavement and saw the group from the cake-stall surge forward to join the rest, and he waved his hand. A poster on the railings said: ‘The Comforts for Mothers of the Free Nations Fund. A fête will be held . . . under the patronage of royalty . . .’

 

So begins Arthur Rowe's incredible story in which a mix up at a charity fete alters Arthur's life forever and throws him into the midst of espionage, politics, and murder.  

 

The Ministry of Fear is Greene's 11th novel, yet, to me it represents the first of the series of books that forms the basis of my appreciation of his canon of work. Written in 1943, Greene combines elements of mystery and espionage and spices them up with gritty noir and anxieties lived out by the characters against the back-drop of war time London, where trust is mandatory but seldom warranted.

 

Welcome to Greeneland!

 

"A phrase of Johns’ came back to mind about a Ministry of Fear. He felt now that he had joined its permanent staff. But it wasn’t the small Ministry to which Johns had referred, with limited aims like winning a war or changing a constitution. It was a Ministry as large as life to which all who loved belonged. If one loved one feared."

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