Thursday, April 26, 2012

Together in Greeneland

Once upon a time, on a train to Vienna

There was an article a couple of months ago in The Guardian, a brief tribute by author/former bishop Richard Holloway to his literary hero, Graham Greene.  Writes Holloway: "I loved him then and love him now because his art deals with the spiritual loser's lust for redemption."

Greene is a favorite of mine, as well.  His dark-but-beautiful romance The End of the Affair is one I've read several times. (Fair warning: the book is wonderful but the movie is rubbish.  Yes, it has Ralph Fiennes, but they've changed the ending and ruined the whole darn thing.  In my little opinion.)  Greene - a journalist as well as a novelist - was not a one-note wonder.  Our Man In Havana is absurd and hilarious.  The Power & The Glory is a little heart-breaking.  Monsignor Quixote is a modern fable and homage to Cervantes' classic novel. The Third Man is a tale of murder and mystery.  The Quiet American makes you think and wonder about things.

Disparate though the tones and genres of Greene's work may be, there is a unifying theme that runs throughout: most of his characters seem to wrestle with God in one way or another.  And it's this wrestling, the questioning, the searching, that I find so beautiful, that makes me want to read everything he's ever written.

The rest of that brief Guardian piece sums it up quite nicely:

"Being a broken man himself, Greene knew how to probe the pain and romance of faith and its failed practitioners better than anyone else. Even those of us who never ended up in a prison in Mexico waiting for execution, like the whisky priest in The Power and the Glory, knew what his self-disgust felt like. We knew what Greene was on about when he described the sadness of missing happiness by seconds at an appointed place. A little more self-discipline and maybe our tormented hearts would have ceased tormenting yet. But we also knew somewhere inside that it was our failures that kept us human.

Being a priesthood themselves, great writers understand this better than most. Tennessee Williams knew that if he’d exorcised his demons he’d have destroyed his angels as well. And the poet Ian Crichton Smith understood that “from our weakness only are we kind.” Greene would have agreed with them both. There was human solidarity in weakness, fellowship in failure. That’s why the spoiled priest in his greatest novel was overwhelmed with compassion for other losers. When you looked at other men and women, “you could always begin to feel pity. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” And that had to include self-hatred. In Greeneland, in the end, everyone is forgiven because everyone is understood."

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