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The Heart of the Matter ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (40)

Scobie is an honest  middle aged Colonial policeman in Africa with an unhappy wife, few friends, no money and little chance of advancement.  He and his men, and Wilson--a spy who has fallen in love with Scobie's wife--are trying to break up a diamond smuggling operation in their port city, which is especially busy with the outbreak of World War II.

When Scobie's wife decides to go to South Africa & prepare the way for his retirement, he is unable to raise the required cash.  Yusef, a Syrian merchant suspected of the diamond smuggling, offers to lend him the money.  Scobie recognizes the inherent dangers in such an arrangement but he longs to make his wife happy and so accepts the loan.

With his wife gone, Scobie stumbles into an affair with Helen Rolt, a shipwreck survivor.  A devout Catholic, Scobie is tormented by guilt over this affair and when his wife writes to inform him of her decision to return, he is faced with an insoluble dilemma.  He wants to make both women happy and he wants "peace & solitude" for himself.  Compounding his problem, Yusef and Wilson have both found out about the affair & use the knowledge for their own ends.

Eventually, and inevitably, Scobie determines that there is only one way out of his predicament.

I read some comments by Greene about the book at one of the websites below.  He says that the book the critics and public read is not the book he was trying to write.  Despite himself, he has given us a terrific book about Scobie's struggles to be a good man and be true to his faith in God.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

Graham Greene Links:
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: your search: "Graham Greene"
    -ESSAY:   'The Third Man' as a Story and a Film (GRAHAM GREENE, NY Times, March 19, 1950)
    -Graham Greene: THE CHESTERTONS   (NY Review of Books, Jul 21, 1983)
    -Graham Greene: THE FBI AND PEARL HARBOR   (NY Review of Books, Aug 12, 1982)
    -Graham Greene: YOU'RE WELCOME  (NY Review of Books, Nov 8, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: INFORMATION WANTED (NY Review of Books, Sep 27, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: The Great Spectacular    (NY Review of Books, Jan 26, 1978)
    -Graham Greene: The Country with Five Frontiers   (NY Review of Books, Feb 17, 1977 )
    -Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Home Page GGBT
    -Anne Sherry Graham Greene Page
    -Graham Greene  (Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources)
    -Graham Greene
    -Greeneland: The World of Graham Greene
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (short bio, John D. Hamilton)
    -OBIT: Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul
    -Featured Author: Graham Greene With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times (NY Times Book Review)
    -CATHERINE WALSTON/GRAHAM GREENE PAPERS (Georgetown.edu)
    -ESSAY: Graham Greene's Vietnam (Tom Curry, Literary Traveler)
    -ESSAY: The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene (Robert Royal, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Why Greene fades on film (Quentin Curtis, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: ëHe knew himself as no one else didí Novelist Shirley Hazzard talks about her times with Greene on Capri (Desmond OíGrady, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him  (Paul Theroux, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPTS: from May we Borrow Your Husband?
    -REVIEW: The Lives of Graham Greene (David Lodge, NY Review of Books)
     -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene  (NY Review of Books)
    -Book club discussion questions: End of the Affair (Warren Pages)
    -REVIEW: of The End of the Affair   Mr. Greene's Intense Art (GEORGE MAYBERRY, NY Times, October 28, 1951)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Matter  (July 11, 1948, WILLIAM DU BOIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American (March 11, 1956, ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American by Graham Greene (C. P. Farley, Powell's)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: God's Greene, NY Review of Books
           The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
           Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
           A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -Michael Shelden: GREENE & ANTI-SEMITISM (NY Review of Books, Sep 21, 1995)
    -Richard West: Graham Greene and 'The Quiet American' (NY Review of Books, May 16, 1991)
    -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene (NY Review of Books, May 30, 1991)
    -REVIEW:  John Bayley: God's Greene  (NY Review of Books)
        The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
        Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
        A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -REVIEW:   Joan Didion: Discovery  (NY Review of Books)
        Finding the Center: Two Narratives by V.S. Naipaul
        Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Jonathan Raban: Innocents Abroad   (NY Review of Books)
        J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
        Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Robert Towers: Cautionary Tale  (NY Review of Books)
        Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: Greene's Castle  (NY Review of Books)
        The Human Factor by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:   V.S. Pritchett: Rogue Poet  (NY Review of Books)
        Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: A Funny Sort of God   (NY Review of Books)
        The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
        Collected Stories by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost   (NY Review of Books)
        Midnight Oil by V.S. Pritchett
        A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
    -RESPONSE:   Graham Greene: GREENE'S MEANING   (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW:  Denis Donoghue: The Uncompleted Dossier   (NY Review of Books)
        Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
        Blind Love, and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett
    -REVIEW:  V.S. Pritchett: A Polished Dissenter  (NY Review of Books)
        Collected Essays including The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Sybille Bedford: Tragic Comedians   (NY Review of Books)
        The Comedians by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: David Lodge: The Lives of Graham Greene   (NY Review of Books)
        Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden
        Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
        The Life of Graham Greene Volume II, 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
        Graham Greene: Three Lives by Anthony Mockler
        Graham Greene: Friend and Brother by Leopoldo Duran and translated by Euan Cameron
        The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories
    -REVIEW: of Green on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (DORIS BETTS, NANDO)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Graham Greene; Volume III: 1955-1991 by Norman Sherr (FRANKLIN FREEMAN, Touchstone)

Book-related and General Links:
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: your search: "Graham Greene"
    -ESSAY:   'The Third Man' as a Story and a Film (GRAHAM GREENE, NY Times, March 19, 1950)
    -Graham Greene: THE CHESTERTONS   (NY Review of Books, Jul 21, 1983)
    -Graham Greene: THE FBI AND PEARL HARBOR   (NY Review of Books, Aug 12, 1982)
    -Graham Greene: YOU'RE WELCOME  (NY Review of Books, Nov 8, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: INFORMATION WANTED (NY Review of Books, Sep 27, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: The Great Spectacular    (NY Review of Books, Jan 26, 1978)
    -Graham Greene: The Country with Five Frontiers   (NY Review of Books, Feb 17, 1977 )
    -Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Home Page GGBT
    -Anne Sherry Graham Greene Page
    -Graham Greene  (Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources)
    -Graham Greene
    -Greeneland: The World of Graham Greene
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (short bio, John D. Hamilton)
    -OBIT: Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul
    -Featured Author: Graham Greene With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times (NY Times Book Review)
    -CATHERINE WALSTON/GRAHAM GREENE PAPERS (Georgetown.edu)
    -ESSAY: Graham Greene's Vietnam (Tom Curry, Literary Traveler)
    -ESSAY: The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene (Robert Royal, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Why Greene fades on film (Quentin Curtis, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: ëHe knew himself as no one else didí Novelist Shirley Hazzard talks about her times with Greene on Capri (Desmond OíGrady, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him  (Paul Theroux, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPTS: from May we Borrow Your Husband?
    -REVIEW: The Lives of Graham Greene (David Lodge, NY Review of Books)
     -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene  (NY Review of Books)
    -Book club discussion questions: End of the Affair (Warren Pages)
    -REVIEW: of The End of the Affair   Mr. Greene's Intense Art (GEORGE MAYBERRY, NY Times, October 28, 1951)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Matter  (July 11, 1948, WILLIAM DU BOIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American (March 11, 1956, ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: God's Greene, NY Review of Books
           The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
           Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
           A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -Michael Shelden: GREENE & ANTI-SEMITISM (NY Review of Books, Sep 21, 1995)
    -Richard West: Graham Greene and 'The Quiet American' (NY Review of Books, May 16, 1991)
    -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene (NY Review of Books, May 30, 1991)
    -REVIEW:  John Bayley: God's Greene  (NY Review of Books)
        The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
        Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
        A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -REVIEW:   Joan Didion: Discovery  (NY Review of Books)
        Finding the Center: Two Narratives by V.S. Naipaul
        Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Jonathan Raban: Innocents Abroad   (NY Review of Books)
        J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
        Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Robert Towers: Cautionary Tale  (NY Review of Books)
        Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: Greene's Castle  (NY Review of Books)
        The Human Factor by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:   V.S. Pritchett: Rogue Poet  (NY Review of Books)
        Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: A Funny Sort of God   (NY Review of Books)
        The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
        Collected Stories by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost   (NY Review of Books)
        Midnight Oil by V.S. Pritchett
        A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
    -RESPONSE:   Graham Greene: GREENE'S MEANING   (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW:  Denis Donoghue: The Uncompleted Dossier   (NY Review of Books)
        Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
        Blind Love, and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett
    -REVIEW:  V.S. Pritchett: A Polished Dissenter  (NY Review of Books)
        Collected Essays including The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Sybille Bedford: Tragic Comedians   (NY Review of Books)
        The Comedians by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: David Lodge: The Lives of Graham Greene   (NY Review of Books)
        Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden
        Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
        The Life of Graham Greene Volume II, 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
        Graham Greene: Three Lives by Anthony Mockler
        Graham Greene: Friend and Brother by Leopoldo Duran and translated by Euan Cameron
        The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories
    -REVIEW: of Green on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (DORIS BETTS, NANDO)

Comments:

Under the influence of the flu, I plucked Greene's The Heart of the Matter off my bookshelf. (An appropriate choice, given all the malaria and blackwater fever in the novel, as I was soon to discover.) The book, slow at the beginning, heated up with an engaging plot until the departure of Louise (Scobie's wife) for a holiday/marital separation in South Africa and the introduction of Helen (middle-aged Scobie's young lover). After the entirely unbelievable Helen appears on the scene, borne out the sea like a sick and twisted version of Venus, Greene's writing and the quality of his observations deteriorates quickly. Greene's once careful observations and patient, hard-boiled descriptions are replaced by forced and rather shallow philosphical, moral, ethical and religious themes that rise up so clearly to the novel's surface all amiguity (and therefore, the entire entertainment of reading) is lost. The Heart of the Matter becomes a dull Hyde Park soapbox upon which another self-proclaimed genius rants. (But everyone knows a genius doesn't rant. . . Only a fool does that.) If the reader is in the mood for a bit of existential God-angst, but still wants all the qualities of a well-written novel, best to revisit The Stranger by Albert Camus. The Heart of the Matter should really be called Half the Heart of the Matter. The first half is is top-notch, but the second will ultimately doom the book to obscurity--unless, of course, high school teachers and college professors keep plucking this "classic" off the shelf because it's so easy to teach "themes" to the ill-read students. (I can hear all the high school teachers getting up in arms now, proclaiming: "But it's a great book for class dicussions!") Think of what Berryman said about Shakespeare: "He never gave away his meaning in a single line." Greene gives it all away in this overrated dud.

- Scott

- Jun-07-2006, 15:57

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