Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Luxuriating in the chance to read something I didn't have to, I picked up Greene's The Quiet American. I've not read Greene for years and all I remember of the experience was a vague feeling of distaste. I assumed I was missing something - hence The QA. The distaste returned almost at once. Readable as the book was in its way, I didn't enjoy a minute of it. Yet it possessed so many solid virtues - mostly well-realised characters, a formidable sense of place combined with some fine, lyrical descriptive passages and a subtle balance of dialogue and action. So why the distaste? Well, the narrator, Thomas Fowler, is intended to be an unpleasant man, but, having read Shirley Hazzard's superb memoir, Greene on Capri, and, long ago, reviewed a very sympathetic biography, it seemed clear that he was, in fact, Greene. Meeting Greene would, I suspect, have been like meeting Fowler - an informative but essentially lowering experience. Many great writers are, of course, very nasty, but, in this case, there seemed to be a connection that prevented the book taking off. I have the same problems with Woody Allen films. But the real complaint I have is the excess of plot - not a horizontal excess, but a vertical one. The plot hangs like a threatening sky over the book. Unlike Conrad - obviously an influence on Greene - who created plots that ticked over beneath the surface of the action, Greene makes plots of which one is always oppressively aware. One notes the pieces being moved about the chess board with irritation and, when it's all over, it's just, like your average thriller, over. And that's all I have to say about Graham Greene.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:35 am