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“The Honorary Consul” by Graham Greene

So I’m up at the lake in a cabin while everyone else is off fishing and I found on the shelf a novel by Graham Greene. I thought to myself, “I’ve heard a lot about this guy. I should read him.”

So I did, and had the opposite sort of muffled reaction that I did to “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. With “Twilight,” I read it because everyone was arguing about it and I was starting to draw conclusions about a novel that I had never read, which I don’t like doing. After I read it, I mildly agreed with what people said about it, but didn’t see why people were so upset. It was the logical conclusion of decades of turning parasitical spawns of Satan into desirable boyfriends crossed with the delusions of Christian romance industry and sweet teen romance: a perfect marketing storm that revealed the nonsense of the first two (I haven’t read any teen romance for comparison). And for the record, it was written at the same level of craft of Nora Roberts, the bestselling living romance novelist.

When I read Graham Greene, it was because book reviewers kept saying great things about him, but in the context of reviewing other books; just enough to get me curious. After I read it, I mildly agreed that he was a good writer, he had all the elements of literary writing, but I didn’t see the magic. Maybe it was because the main character’s emotional dilemma was worrying about his lack of emotion; a nearly emotionless POV is going to suck the life out of the prose right there. He seems to be trying to help save another man’s life just because if the other man dies, his widow might try to marry the main character because she is carrying his child.

Let me back up: the POV character is an emotionless doctor who is sleeping with the twenty-something prostitute that his friend the sixty-something ‘honorary consul’ has married. The doctor becomes involved with a plot to kidnap the visiting American ambassador (this story takes place in South America) to trade for the exchange of ten political prisoners, including the doctor’s father, but the terrorists, for lack of a better word to describe these misfits, accidentally kidnapped the ‘honorary consul’ who has no value as a hostage whatsoever. The story would have been funny if the characters weren’t so sad.

The dialogue is at its most interesting when the atheist doctor and the ex-priest (fired by the Church for his liberation theology, a socialist vision of Christianity) are discussing the viability of the old duelist God heresy which the priest has adopted, the idea that God is equal parts good and evil as explanation for both, but you have read quite a ways to get to it. The internal dialogue is most interesting when the two male leads are trying to puzzle out the wife’s true feelings; years of prostitute have taught her to show men only what they want. In this very unfunny book, the lies men and women tell everyone to be a part of society is described as a comedy people should give up to avoid the tragedy of never being true.

Except in the plot, the lies work. Lies are as much the bread and butter of the prostitute as sex, they allowed the ex-priest to control the doctor, and the media to control the people. The most successful character (in that he gets what he wants) is the police detective, a secondary character, who knows how to successfully navigate a world of lies to find the truth, and then he lies to make himself look better.

So really, “The Honorary Consul” is almost Taoist. It’s a nearly passionless book about love, with a plot showing how tangled truth and lies and good and evil are in our world.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
e_d_young
Jun. 27th, 2014 09:12 pm (UTC)
I read Graham Greene for the first time not long ago. "The End of the Affair" is a rather short book yet it took me forever. I did not see any magic at all. I was so disappointed that I cannot even think about it from a technical point of view.

Edited at 2014-06-27 09:15 pm (UTC)
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