Ron Rosenbaum

Blogging Graham Greene

I’m going to try an experiment. Blogging a book as I read it. I’ve chosen a novel. Dealing with racists-in-denial is deeply depressing and makes one long for a fictional world where such sad, self deluding cases are far away. Although eventually I’m going to compile the best and most clueless examples to try to see if we can learn anything about their psychology. (I think it’s their bitterness that they were not born as intelligent as Obama which makes them aware of the possibillity that there is something “inferior” about them. As they illustrate with their often astonihsingly un self-aware comments).

So let us turn to the novel, Graham Greene’s 1973 The Honorary Consul, I’ve re read some of Greene’s novels, particulary The Human Factor, The Quiet American and The Heart of the Matter so often that I picked this one up thinking I’d be re-reading it, but in fact it was the first time.

It was incredibly exciting since there’s something about Greene that alway gets to me. Some literati consider him, what, too emotional, too obviously “thematic”, too direct, old-fashioned in exploring the struggles of sin, guilt and redemption. Greene’s Unholy Trinity. But I like him for that. Especially the guilt.

This one takes place in Green’s Latin America in a nation bordering on Paraguay where the narrator’s father has been “disapeared” for revolutionary activities.

Greene is so great with brilliantly subtle downbeat minor charcters, and quickly Dr. Plarr’s three friends the dissoute Dr. Humphries, the verbose eogtistical notelist Saveeda, and finally-well he’s not minor–the Honorary consul Charlie Fortnum. I could hang out listening to the exquisitely wrought tragicomedy of their lives forever, it’s a novelists’ gift he’s not always given credit for.

But–a little too fast for me–Greene introduces a plot–a revolutioalry kidnaping and the taking of Charlie Fotnum hostage by mistake, and then–oh no!–one of the revoutionaries turns out to be one of Greene’s tormented priests, and it’s getting a ltitle too obviously Greenish.

But then comes the love interest and I’m totally into it again.

Before going further let me raise one question: I can’t quite figure out:Greene’s attitude toward Borges.

it’s almost odd to think of htem as contemorarieies, they’re so different, Borges so deliciously meta about everything. And yet here is how Greene’s Dr. Plarr describes why he likes Borges:

“Borges shared the tastes he had inherited from his father–Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Chesterton…After a time he grew thirsty…To appreciate Borges properly he had to be taken, like a cheese biscuit, with an aperiftif”

So here’s the question: you wouldn’t recognize Borges fro this description o a Conan Doyle lover would you. Sure, he liked detective stories, but metahysical detetective stories. Is he saying this is a way to appreciate that Borges is not forbiddingly arcane? Or is it a suble marginalization of Borges. Cheese biscuit? A litle finicky.

Or is it neither but Greene’s way of portraying his main characater: as someone who doesn’t get the meta component of Borges. And perhaps giving Borges generous hat tip recongition before he became an international literary celebrity like Greene, and perhaps a more cerebral celebrity.

Just asking. Back next time with the love triangle.