November 2011 Books
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene.
Leaven of Malice, Robertson Davies.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris.
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien.
The Confidential Agent, Graham Greene.
The Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene.
Someone once wrote that a critic tends to project his views on the novels he reads, that a review is more about what the critic thinks rather than what the writer intends. This may be true up to a point, but my reviews aren't about a writer's intent. I don't pretend my impressions are objective. In fact I'm as subjective as they come regarding novels. I've been known to latch on to certain authors from time to time and devour everything I could get my hands on, as if that writer and I had a soul connection or something. Or in cases where, say, I just felt the writer could do no wrong. But inevitably I’d read something by that writer that would render him or her human again, and they’d fall from the top of my Books To Read Right Now list to take a number and sit in the waiting room with the rest of the literary mortals I hoped to eventually get round to reading.
I didn’t intend to read everything I had by Graham Greene this month. It just happened that way. I’d read This Gun for Hire about eight years ago, and the comments I’d jotted down on my Book List doc were positive but vague. A friend had recommended Greene’s The Power and the Glory, and once I finally got around to reading it this month, I decided to check out a couple other Greene novels I had lying round.
Greene is one of those writers you find yourself trusting explicitly. Many times I thought, “If this were a movie, I’d turn the channel. But the style and the telling inspire such authority, I can’t put it down.” There are times when his story goes in a direction I don’t approve of, but I don’t mind because I know I’m in good hands, that no matter how sad or strange the story gets, I’ll finish in some way enlightened. I hope I’m not giving the impression that Greene is deep or rough or boring to read. He’s not. His style is easy going and smooth, and the pace is just right. His penetrating insight about our ideas on good and sacrifice and love are refreshing, and even if you disagree with him or the character he attributes these thoughts to, he doesn’t bang you over the head with this perspective. His characters are never mere devices to move a plot forward, either; they’re multi-layered, complicated, sometimes quirky, personalities.
Greene adheres to what I think are the three primary ingredients for a well told story:
1) action (motion, what happens visually)
2) observation (description, narrative, props)
3) psychology (motivation, inner thoughts and feelings of characters, particularly protagonists).
I don’t remember coming across that recipe in any book I’ve read about writing methods, but we’ve all seen it in use at some point. And I’m sure it’s been said before elsewhere. If not, you read it here first.
I recommend you give Greene a shot. Of those I read this month, I recommend The Confidential Agent the most. For a lighter, certainly wittier, read you can’t go wrong with Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies. See What’s Bred in the Bone.