Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

October 24, 2008

Blogging Graham Greene

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:11 pm

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.

1 Comment »

  1. One of the greatest encounters of my life came in the fall of 1971 at Yale University where I was an undergraduate. Borges was scheduled to speak by the Spanish Department at a small classroom building, Linsley-Chittenden Hall, totally unsuitable for the line of fans which snaked around Chapel Street. When Borges arrived with his translator a cry went up for a larger hall. Contributing my bit to literary history, I suggested Sterling Sheffield Strathcona Hall. Assenting, Borges raised his cane like a sword and bellowed, “Strathcona!!. Answering his charge, the line of fans shuffled jauntily to the building (known colloquially at Yale as “SSS”) with Borges, his translator, the Spanish Department and yours truly at the lead. Predictably, “Strathcona” was closed (and dark, temporarily, to all save Borges), but I managed to find a janitor and attempted to bribe him with all the money I had on me, fifty dollars, a king’s ransom for a 1971 sophomore. Tempted, the janitor still refused without “authorization”. I found a pay phone (still luckily had a dime) and called the Dean of Yale College John Wilkerson, never a personal favorite, at home, and, after much explaining, persuaded him to reluctantly talk to the janitor, who opened the auditorium, before going in back of the stage to turn on the lights. Borges began speaking in the dark (with translation) to settle the crowd, before the lights came on. As to Greene’s opinion of the Grand Fabulist, it must be shaped by Envy, Greene’s primary flaw.

    Comment by charlie finch — October 24, 2008 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: