For the past three years I’ve been living in GreeneLand. For those who have never visited, it’s sometimes hard to explain my love for the place. Friends and family know I’m always reading two things: Graham Greene and something else. I’m currently reading The Quiet American, which in 1955 was the first major work to warn of entanglement in the Vietnam conflict. If I were asked to pick any person living or dead to have a one-on-one conversation with, I would chose to share a bottle of scotch with Graham Greene. He was in his prime during the WWII era and died in 1991, but his works are just as relevant today as they were when first published. He’s the rare author who is just as popular with readers as he is with his peers and aspiring writers, renowned for his commercial and critical success, and he’s among the most influential and widely read English language novelists of the 20th century. As far as I’m concerned, he’s also the best.
CAPTION: Graham Greene (October 2, 1904 to April 3, 1991)
Clearly influenced by his love for films and his travels across many continents (often under the employ of the British government, and some claim as a secret agent), Greene wrote in a refreshing cinematic style, his pen working like a camera and capturing succinct and vivid details of place and time. His style evoked first glimpses of a dynamic exterior world and then slid smoothly into the internal world of his protagonists, who were often adrift in moral ambiguities and ensnared in tenuous ties to their unstable environments.
In GreeneLand there are no saints, but plenty of sinners, no black and white, no right or wrong, only varying degrees of fog. And it’s here where his alter egos live, lurking in the shadows, often self-made, often the result of ominous world events and the threat of death. Greene was as comfortable with the criminals following their own moral compass like the young thug of Brighton Rock or the assassin from A Gun for Sale as he was with the authority figures who had lost their way like the whisky priest from The Power and the Glory or the adulterous colonial officer from The Heart of the Matter. In GreeneLand, the opposite sides of the law are often one and the same, and the tides of misfortune can change with the coming storms of war and political conflict in the external world or the crisis of conscience internal. Nowhere is this more evident than in the searing and highly autobiographical The End of the Affair, where a writer takes up an affair with a married woman against the backdrop of the Nazi bombings of London during WWII.
CAPTION: This was a part of Graham Greene’s everyday life during WWII that stirred the wicked cocktail that was his imagination.
Greene became world famous for his globe-hopping spy novels and political thrillers, his philandering, his bitter British wit, and his tortured conversion to Catholicism. Greene was both priest and therapist to his characters, probing deep inside their minds and hearts and prompting them to confess their innermost thoughts and fears to his readers while at the same time allowing everyone to get caught up in the clever mechanics of his plots while living in the splendor or squalor of the external places in which his internal conflicts often violently interacted. Whether aiming to entertain, provoke, enrage, or entrance, Greene’s works often resulted in, as Salman Rushdie so accurately described, “an education in the slipperiness and mutability of things.”
Though Greene also dabbled with memoirs, plays, children’s stories, and screenwriting (most famously scripting the greatest film noir of all time, The Third Man), it is his works of popular fiction where most take refuge.
Here is my primer for taking up residency in GreeneLand:
WORKS I HAVE READ:
In a class by itself: The Power and the Glory
The Holy Trinity of Literature Classics: Brighton Rock, The End of the Affair, The Heart of the Matter
His Grand Entertainments: A Gun for Sale, The Ministry of Fear, Our Man in Havana, The Tenth Man
Recommended for those looking to take a vacation first to GreeneLand before taking up residency: The Collected Short Stories of Graham Greene from Penguin Classics
For longtime residents only: The Captain and the Enemy, Orient Express, A Burnt Out Case
Currently reading: The Quiet American
WORKS I HAVE YET TO READ:
In my reading queue: The Comedians, England Made Me, Travels with my Aunt
Works waiting to be explored: The Man Within, The Confidential Agent, Loser Takes All, The Honorary Consul, The Human Factor, Doctor Fischer of Geneva, Monsignor Quixote
MY FAVORITE GRAHAM GREENE QUOTES:
The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see – every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.
Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.
The moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave it to him.
If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?
Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered.
They are always saying God loves us. If that’s love I’d rather have a bit of kindness. (from The End of the Affair)
Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either egotism, selfishness, evil – or else an absolute ignorance.
It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.
We are all of us resigned to death: it’s life we aren’t resigned to.
No human being can really understand another, and no one can arrange another’s happiness. (from The Quiet American)
Written by David H. Schleicher