On Reading Graham Greene

Page-turning as pilgrimage.

The Power and the Glory

Set in Mexico in the 1930s, when the Catholic Church has been outlawed by the revolutionary government, The Power and the Glory portrays a corrupted and courageous cleric’s devotion to his calling, despite his alcoholism (Greene gives him no name other than “the whisky priest”), his licentiousness (his fatherhood is emblem of his forsaken chastity), and his tortured alertness to his unworthiness. Knowing he risks execution by carrying the sacraments from village to village and nourishing as best he can the spiritual needs of the poor, he struggles to uphold the vision of a God who both eludes and exhilarates him. He is stalked in his travels by a young police lieutenant whose fervent belief in political realities poses a philosophical as well as a physical threat to his prey, deepening the stakes of the chase. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, the whisky priest is a hero who, in his very unfitness for the role, reveals the imaginative nobility of faith, hope, and love even in — especially in — the most unexalted settings. That he is not a good priest, and maybe even not a very good man, defines the human quandary that gives Greene’s narrative its profound resonance.

The End of the Affair

A compelling tapestry of brooding desire, obsessive jealousy, and religious belief, The End of the Affair tells the story of Maurice Bendrix, who, stung by the abrupt end of an affair with a friend’s wife, has hired a private investigator to follow the woman who walked out of his embrace nearly two years before. What he ultimately discovers calls everything he has previously believed into question. It’s a haunting exploration of love, both human and divine, and of the force of faith in a faithless age. Of all Greene’s novels, The End of the Affair may best embody, if not explain, his mysterious imaginative power.

Excerpted from the book, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich. Copyright © 2018 by James Mustich. Published by Workman Publishing.

Now: Author, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. Then: publisher and chief bookseller, A Common Reader. https://www.1000bookstoread.com/

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