Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graham Greene

"There's always a moment in childhood when a door opens and let's the future in." ~Graham Greene.

You can tell who your favorite authors are because it is always such a delight to share their company. That is, the measure of what music or books or movies are your favorites is by how often you return to them and actually re-read or re-listen or re-view them. One favorite of mine has been Graham Greene.

Greene, 1904-1991, was a British novelist and Catholic whose works conveyed an unusual depth of insight into human character. His international settings offered fascinating backdrops for his stories, interesting to readers in much the same way Ripley's Believe It Or Not anecdotes seemed to fascinate because of their foreign features. Hence we find a Catholic priest struggling for survival in 1930's Mexico during a time when the State was suppressing the Church (The Power and the Glory), and a jaded journalist in Viet Nam during the French occupation who encounters a young American idealist in a complicated love triangle that is metaphor for much more (The Quiet American), and a naive American writer of pulp fiction who is lured to post-WWII Vienna only to have his superficial views shredded in the face of the corruption of his friend Harry Lime (The Third Man).

Exotic locations fit the bill for a second reason, beyond their interest value to readers. Greene had become a clandestine member of Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1941. The role of novelist provided excellent cover and gave him access to all kinds of material to work with. Greene had a front row seat at all the world's trouble spots, from Africa to Southeast Asia to Iron Curtained Europe at the outset of the Cold War.

I own ten Greene novels and a collection of his short stories, but equally compelling is his autobiography with the quizzical title A Sort of Life. As a boy Greene was severely bullied in school and suffered greatly with depression. On numerous occasions he went to the brink of suicide, several times playing Russian Roulette by himself with a loaded gun. Thankfully, he survived the turmoil of adolescence.

His writings demonstrate that literary giftedness, psychological astuteness and mass appeal are not mutually exclusive. He called some of his novels "entertainments" but whatever you touch with his name on it will leave you enriched. Here are two more quotes today to ponder. Even in bleakness, his work is founded on a bedrock of hope.

"The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity."
Graham Greene

"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."
Graham Greene

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