Saturday, January 17, 2009


You know when you tell people about your travel plans, and they say, "Oh, once you get there, you'll never want to leave"? That's the way it is with Graham Greene's novels.

The first time I went to Greeneland, I didn't particularly want to go back. The occasion was The End of the Affair, a few years back (I was told it was a suitable followup to Brideshead Revisited), and frankly I wasn't too impressed. I liked the story but the writing not so much. But then I started up again this past summer with Orient Express, which just might be Greene's most carefully crafted novel. After that, why leave?

I could write for paragraphs about Graham Greene, but this is only a blog post. So I'll pick just one thing out of many that I love about his books . . . every single one is different. It's funny because he worries over the same themes over and over and over again, and yet you can't ever predict how a story is going to end. The Man Within, one of his earliest books, is sort of embryonic Greene, extremely imperfect - yet mirrored by the elegant and polished Captain and the Enemy, which came at the very end of his life. A character in The Comedians is recycled into Travels with My Aunt. His style is different in every book - in some cases apallingly bad - gradually lurching toward his impeccable final voice. Every book rips a different aspect of Christianity to shreds while at the same time proving how necessary it is. He sets his stories in different countries (all of which he visited). How in the world does he always manage to captivate his readers? There appears to be no method to the madness. Maybe that's what's so splendid - each book is a prodigy; it doesn't emerge from a cold and calculating formula.

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