Travels With My Aunt is the first of Graham Greene’s “entertainments” I’ve read, and it’s as wonderful as his serious novels. This book doesn’t just have one good story, it has about fifty. The first excerpt here tickles my funny bone the same way Dan Rhodes’s writing does, and the second is taken from a great story which I have unfortunately had to truncate, and which is much funnier in its completeness.
Again I am brought to my knees by Graham Greene. Again I find myself fumbling for words that deserve to be used in a review. Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is an incredibly audacious book; perhaps one day I’ll write an equally bold one about Graham Greene – because in my life so far (narrow-horizoned as it admittedly has been), I have not read a writer who can equal his understanding of what it is to be human.
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.
A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
* * *
Hatred seems to operate the same glands as love: it even produces the same actions. If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?
* * *
I felt that afternoon such complete trust when she said to me suddenly, without being questioned,”I’ve never loved anybody or anything as I do you.” It was as if, sitting there in the chair with a half-eaten sandwich in her hand, she was abandoning herself as completely as she had done, five minutes back, on the hardwood floor. We most of us hesitate to make so complete a statement – we remember and we foresee and we doubt. She had no doubts. The moment only mattered. Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time, and sometimes it seemed to me that her abandonment touched that strange mathematical point of endlessness, a point with no width, occupying no space. What did time matter – all the past and the other men she may from time to time (there is that word again) have known, or all the future in which she might be making the same statement with the same sense of truth? When I replied that I loved her too in that way, I was the liar, not she, for I never lose the consciousness of time: to me the present is never here: it is always last year or next week.
She wasn’t lying even when she said,”Nobody else. Ever again.” There are contradictions in time, that’s all, that don’t exist on the mathematical point. She had so much more capacity for love than I had – I couldn’t bring down that curtain round the moment, I couldn’t forget and I couldn’t not fear. Even in the moment of love, I was like a police officer gathering evidence of a crime that hadn’t yet been committed, and when more than seven years later I opened Parkis’s letter the evidence was all there in my memory to add to my bitterness.