Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Graham Greene

Greene, eh? Bit like Burgess. I used to like him, now I don't. Why not? Don't know. But when lovers fall out, it isn't usually pretty or reasonable or rational. And I used to love Greene. I even blamed (?) him for my loss of faith at one stage, though I was sixteen at the time and prone to saying silly things. Where did it go wrong?

Introduced to Brighton Rock in secondary school, I quickly read most of his other major works - my parents had a compendium of five or six of his novels, and several gorgeous orange backed penguins. I lived and breathed The Heart of the Matter, The Power and The Glory, The Quiet American, A Burnt Out Case, The Honorary Consul and the other 'major' novels. I can even remember feeling very upset when he died in 1991.

At university I even wrote my dissertation on his religious novels - "Bakhtinian Readings of Graham Greene' or some such piffle. By this time I'd read most of the famous ones and was polishing off the minor works - Travels With My Aunt, The Captain and the Enemy, Monsignor Quixote and so on. I didn't think much of them but I didn't let that worry me. I recognised them as what they were - minor fluff, not to be taken seriously and not compared to the great work that Greene had done before. Though it is interesting to note that it wasn't until my university years that I read The End of the Affair - and I disliked it intensely, for all that it is rated as one of his best. I loved the alienated brooding of Bendrix, but I choked on the absurd religious elemnt of it. Which is interesting, in light of what was to come.

Then we driffted apart for a while. Perhaps we should have left it at that, but I tried to rekindle the romance a frew years ago, picking up a copy of A Burnt Out Case from the local library. it had always been a favourite. But now it sucked. Abysmally. What had once seemed charged with pathos and beauty and terror was just ... dull. And very schematic. And really, obviously, trying too hard to make itself seem important.

Since then, Ive been too scared to re-read any more Greene. I'm afraid that the other greats will seem just as bad. Particularly the other favourites - The Heart of the Matter, The Power and the Glory, The Human Factor. What if they two are as dry and worthless, second (though it might be third or fourth) time round?

Recalling another of his novels that I admired, The Quiet American, published in 1955 and seeming to predict every American foreign policy misadventure between then and now, made me think - what if Greene had resisted the temptation to write all these banally sanctimonious Catholic novels, and written more in the line of the The Quiet American?

Greene was always characterised as being a writer torn between Catholicisim and socialism, though I think that is simplistic - the socialism never really seemed like anything more than ideology he paid lip service to to shock and annoy his fellow Catholics (and vice versa, I suspect). But what if he had thrown the mumbo-jumbo out and written more politically, more journalistically? It is an interesting thought, and I for one, as a disillusioned Greene-ite, wish that he had.

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