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Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter

Title: The Heart of the Matter
Author: Graham Greene
Narrator: Michael Kitchen
Year: 1948

From the very first book I read by Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana, 1958), he established himself as an excellent author with the ability to use the English language in a simple and yet brilliant way. Perhaps the stories themselves are not always that interesting (The Power and the Glory, 1940, might serve as an example), but since the focus of his writing is often put on characters rather than story, this is not as significant as it might seem. The reason I say all this is because it is true for The Heart of the Matter as well.

It is indeed expertly written, and with it, Graham Greene reinforces his position as one of the best writers I know, as long as we are talking language. He possesses that rare ability to depict the problems of very ordinary persons and make them interesting through use of language. It might be through elegant sentences or effective similes, but by whatever means, his writing conveys a depth to the characters rarely encountered elsewhere.

That being said, the story in itself is not very interesting. A police officer in Sierra Leone is too concerned with relieving others from pain, and in so doing (for instance by lying to his wife about loving her), he brings about his own demise and the unhappiness of those around him. Graham Greene was stationed in Sierra Leone himself during World War II, which of course lends credibility to the setting.

The narrator, Michael Kitchen, is perhaps the weirdest narrator I have come across so far in that he is excellent in some respects, but horrible in others. Let me get one thing straight, the man knows what he is doing, so technically speaking, he is very skilled at reading. However, he is rather odd in some ways. For instance, he pauses where normal people would not, which disrupts the listening and is excessively annoying. Here is an example of where normal people would go on, but where Kitchen stops: “He found his left hand [long pause] was trembling on the desk…” The fact that it blatantly deliberate does not maket less irritating.

Conclusively, I feel about The Heart of the Matter as I felt about The Power and the Glory: The story is rather weak, but the execution is so masterly performed that I cannot give the novel less than four snails. I will read more by Graham Greene, not because I expect no great stories, but rather because he is so skilled a writer who can depict everyday life and ordinary people in a way no one else can.

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