Monday, May 24, 2010

'The Heart of the Matter' by Graham Greene

When I first took notions that I might like to be a writer some day, around the age of eighteen when I still had less than no idea of where my life was heading, I reckoned that I'd like to write at least one book that was absolutely gut-wrenchingly, heartbreakingly, stamp-all-over-your-soul-and-then-piss-on-it tragic. A book that would leave the reader crushed. David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars may have been one of the reasons for this rather morbid desire, but an even greater one was The Heart of the Matter, the only Graham Greene I have read so far.

The precise details of the story of Scobie, a long-serving police-inspector in an unnamed British colonial town in West Africa (with Greene drawing heavily on his own experiences of living in Freetown, Sierra Leone) have long escaped me, as the details of most books I read tend to. What remains with me is the clarity with which Greene evokes the sadness and fear of a man torn asunder by pride, failure and good old-fashioned Catholic guilt. A man who fails everyone by working so very hard to fail no-one.


emordino said...

He does a damn good line in downbeat. Our Man in Havana is another fine piece of work. Lesson: it doesn't matter how much you keep your head down, your life will be ruined by the machinations of clueless authority figures who pretend to know what's going on. Also, your daughter will hate you.

Conor said...

Brighton Rock is also brilliant. It's in the 'underworld/crime thriller' vein, with writing to make your mouth water.

Rosie said...

i'm listening to The Man Within in the car at the moment. so far, so-so.

Tessa said...

I decided to read/re-read all Greene's novels a year ago. Like you, I found they gutted me while I was actually reading, then I forgot everything about them within hours of putting them down. I'm not sure if that's Green's fault or mine. Probably mine. Mind like a sieve. Where was I?

Andrew said...

Colm - Hey, I learned that lesson in nursery school. Well, the first part of it.

Conor - Hey, thanks for popping over to this neck of the woods. Actually, I think I have a copy of the movie of Brighton Rock that I've never watched knocking around somewhere. I know watching a film really isn't the same, but his stuff seems to translate well to film. I thought The End of the Affair was excellent, and The Third Man (admittedly a screenplay before it was a novel, but still) is a favourite of mine.

Rosie - Except when the car has a man within.

Tessa - It's a constant problem for me, though I'm learning not to worry about it. Have you read a book called 'How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read'? It deals a lot with the fact that we don't really retain much from the books we read, only the feelings they gave us at the time.

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