It serves me right. I had a hankering to read something by Greene, whom I haven’t picked up in decades, having forgotten whether I liked him or not, and finding most his books in the local library chose the one that looked least like the others. By that I mean a book that didn’t appear to be political or set in a foreign country. I got what I deserved, which was a lesson in the liabilities of being wilful.
Seemingly, the main complaint about this book by the modern reader is that it goes swimmingly well until God emerges. Then it is all downhill, because, as anyone brainwashed by Jewish Marxists knows, ruminations on objects of faith are for the feebleminded. I thought it was the other way around; it was Greene’s meanderings about God and Catholicism in the final fifty or so pages that saved both the reader and Maurice Bendrix from slipping into too righteous an anger.
Bendrix is utterly unlikeable. He’s cynical, resigned and a jealous predator to boot. It’s not fair to dislike a novel because the protagonist elicits feelings of murderous rage, but by three-quarters of the way through I did start to doubt the author’s intentions. He had painted himself into a corner from which the only escape was for the reader to throw the book aside.
But then something odd happened. Bendrix, while never accepting or forgiving God, does have a revelation of sorts, although it’s a strange kind of revelation where a man fails to see it for himself. Nevertheless, Greene pulled off something rare; an unexpected turnaround in a character, which softened him from something quite ugly into one for whom sympathy, or something approaching it, was not out of the question.
And yet despite this authorial masterly I could not bring myself to do anything more than admire the technique. It was a not dissimilar feeling to watching a five-year-old Chinese child playing the violin with technical mastery but no emotion. But perhaps Graham Greene is having the last laugh. After all, I’ve hated his characters and forgiven them, proving myself to be exactly the kind of middlebrow reader I like to think I’m not.
Curse you Graham Greene. I give your hateful little scribbling three resentful stars.