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.