Graham Greene Books (Thoughts)

In the middle of my third Graham Greene book (he’s my current binge), I’m not entirely convinced by the way all his characters inevitably contemplate faith and God and Roman Catholicism at some point in the story.

Graham Greene characters are ordinary people, essentially good but often weak or wilful; their ruminations on faith are convoluted, not always logical and sometimes theologically dodgy. But they are almost consistently more engaged with the idea of faith as a palpable presence in their lives (whether welcome or not), and what this means for the choices they make, than most people (including me) are.

Which is why I get something from Graham Greene that I haven’t really found before in other writers. I like the time I spend in his world where faith matters, it torments Scobie in The Heart Of The Matter, it separates Sarah and Bendrix in The End Of The Affair, it’s even a chink in Pinkie’s armour of ruthlessness in Brighton Rock. They don’t all deal with its dictates sensibly, but they find themselves incapable of indifference towards it.

This idea – that try as one might, one cannot be indifferent to God – is precisely what draws me to Graham Greene novels, but also precisely why I sometimes fear his books are getting more and more fictional as the years go by.

3 comments

  1. The last sentence is perhaps a little unfair. Greene was himself a late convert to Catholicism. And I can only assume that the period leading to his conversion was a time of intense questioning and powerful spiritual fulfillment.

    Very few people, today or in yesteryear, are privileged to such inspiring encounters with God. (Most of us Catholics are just born into the one true church). But each, in his own very limited fashion, grapples with the eternal questions of existence and truth. Christianity in the West has in recent decades failed to excite and inspire the masses. And while this continues other doctrines will flourish within the void. Kabbalah is my tip for the must have accessory next season.

  2. Inspired by your current binge I went and got a collection of Greene’s short stories out of the library (May We Borrow Your Husband? And Other Comedies of the Sexual Life). Have you read it? What do you make of ‘The Over-Night Bag’ (Chagrin in three parts)?

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