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Title: Monsignor Quixote
Author: Graham Greene
Year: 1982

Even though very much is going on in my life at the moment, I still do have some time to do some reading (and listening, in this case). Monsignor Quixote is a book I’ve been wanting to read a long time, even since Alva’s brother spoke highly about it, which actually lead me to pick up Graham Green in the first place. However, I thought (correctly, as it turned out) that it would be a good idea to have read the original novel by Cervantes first. Then, it was time to read Monsignor Quixote.

Graham Greene’s books are very predictable in one way. They are always well-written and contain a special kind of main character (often angst-ridden middle-age males), and Monsignor Quixote is no exception. We follow a priest (who becomes a monsignor), called father Quixote and the former mayor of his home village of Toboso (who is of course named Sancho) on their adventures across Spain. The narrative is criss-crossed with references to Cervantes, both explicitly (they talk a lot about the novel) and implicitly (the two novel share a lot of story elements). The biggest difference might be that of religion, which I didn’t perceive as very important in the original novel, but which is central to this one. Sancho is a communist and often engages in verbal combat with the placid monsignor, often in a quite entertaining way.

Still, I think this book lacks a solid foundation. There are many interesting things here, especially the characters, but the story is not very coherent and not very fascinating. It’s nico to follow the dialogues between the main characters and their journey through spain, but even though Greene makes something enjoyable out of it, I think the story is by far the weakest point. I would like to give more than three snails, but that’s all Monsignor Quixote deserves.

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Title: Brighton Rock
Author:
Graham Greene
Year: 1938

Fred Hale works for a newspaper in Brighton. His task is to travel to certain places, and to leave cards on his route, allowing readers of the said newspaper to earn a prize if they address him in a certain way or find one of his cards. However, Hale is murdered for the betrayal of a leader of a local gang. The story’s main characters is the upcoming, teenage gangster Pinkie Brown, who assumes the leadership of the gang. The plot revolves around his attempts to cover up Hale’s death, which leads to more trouble and further violence.

Brighton Rock is mainly about morality and sin. Pinkie is a psychopath who is utterly incapable of viewing other humans as something other than tools or means to an end. For instance, he courts the irritatingly stupid and passive girl, Rose, just so that he can make sure she will not give him away. Both are Catholics, but can hardly be called moral. Their opponent, the good-hearted and inquisitive Ida Arnold is, on the other hand, very righteous and want to find the truth about the death of Fred Hale.

Although interesting in many ways, Brighton Rock is probably the weakest novel I have read so far by Graham Greene. It is still worthwhile, but not brilliant in any of the ways I associate with the author. The most rewarding part is not the language (which is the case for many of his other works, such as Our Man in Havana, The Power and the Glory or The Heart of the Matter), but instead, the characters and the interplay between them. I recommend any other of the aforementioned novels by Graham Green rather than Brighton Rock, although it is still interesting in its own way.

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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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Titel: The Power and the Glory
Författare: Graham Greene
Utgivningsår: 1940
Recenserad: 2007-02-24
Status: N/A

The Power and the Glory är den andra boken jag läser av Graham Greene efter hans smått fantastiska premiär i min litteraturvärld i och med Our Man in Havana. Böckerna är dock inte alls speciellt lika varandra och jag ser egentligen ingen poäng alls i att jämföra dem. The Power and the Glory handlar om en man kallad ”the whisky priest”, en präst som försöker hitta sin väg både genom yttre och inre labyrinter av problem. De yttre utgörs av mexikanska regeringens försök att undertrycka religiös tro i landet. Alla präster lever farligt och många av de som inte flytt över gränsen har blivit arkebuserade. Inom sig vet prästen om att han inte är något helgon och kämpar hela tiden med att förstå sin själv och sitt eget förhållande till värden och Gud.

Den här romanen är väldigt originell och liknar ingenting jag läst tidigare, vilket gör att den är svår att betygsätta och bedöma. Det finns flera aspekter jag verkligen gillar, framförallt porträtteringen av prästen. Språket är bra men inte magnifikt. Dock spelar det inte så stor roll, eftersom det är vad som sägs som är det intressanta i den här boken. Författaren belyser olika paradoxer och problem i kristendomen ur många synvinklar och använder prästen och hans omgivning som ett verktyg för detta. Nu ska ni inte tro att han gör detta med ett enbart kritiskt öga, utan boken är full av exempel på där prästen gör betydligt mer nytta än vad han själv vet om eller anser sig förtjäna.

Avslutningsvis är the Power and the Glory en riktigt bra bok som har ett intressant innehåll. Jag måste dock påpeka att jag inte riktigt fastnade för den ytliga handlingen, vilket gjorde att det dröjde ett bra tag innan jag alls tyckte att boken var något att ha. Jag tycker inte att den är det mästerverk många andra verkar tycka (se recensioner på Amazon.com, till exempel. Graham Greene befäster ändå sin position som författare jag vill läsa mer av, så ni kan nog se det som en rekommendation från min sida.

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Titel: Our Man in Havana
Författare: Graham Greene
Utgivningsår: 1958
Recenserad: 2007-02-02
Status:
N/A

Graham Greene har jag hört talas om flera gånger och också fått rekommenderad, men det här är den första boken jag läser av honom. Our Man in Havana handlar om en brittisk medborgare, bosatt i Kubas huvudstad Havana. Han heter Wormhold och säljer dammsugare, men de inkomster detta inbringar, räcker inte riktigt för att försörja hans bortskämda dotter. Därför nappar han på erbjudandet att arbeta som spion för brittiska underrättelsetjänsten MI6. Han är dock egentligen inte en spion i hjärtat, utan istället för att rekrytera verkliga agenter, skicka autentiska rapporter om Kubas ekonomi eller meddela London om rykten om militär verksamhet, hittar han istället på alltihop.

Naturligtvis kompliceras det hela ytterligare när London bedömer att han nu blivit en så viktig person i deras underrättelsenätverk att han förtjänar fler personer som kan hjälpa honom med kryptering och kontorsarbetar. När Beatrice anländer från London, börjar han få svårt att dölja att allting han någonsin skickat bara är lögner och påhitt.

Graham Greene är en av de där författarna som klarar av att skriva extremt bra utan att strössla med krångliga ord. Faktum är att språket i den här boken är alldeles fantastiskt och jag skulle kunna läsa den bara för att bli imponerad hur ett så pass enkelt språkbruk kan bli så effektfullt. Författaren lyckas måla upp karaktärer, miljö och intrig på ett nästintill felfritt sätt, så där som jag själv bara kan drömma om att skriva.

Our Man in Havana är en välsammanhållen bok där ingenting spretar och ingenting är onödigt. Redan från start tyckte jag att intrigen verkade intressant, men jag kan garantera att det fortsätter att utvecklas och bli bättre och bättre ändå till sista sidan. Karaktärerna som befinner sig i detta smått surrealistiska drama är också mästerliga. Förutom Wormhold själv är jag mycket förtjust i hans tyske vän, Dr. Hasselbacher. Båda är trovärdiga människoporträtt utan att för den sakens skull vara tråkiga. De gör mänskliga misstag utan att berättelsen förstörs. Det går verkligen att leva sig in i deras situation. Samtidigt är boken och karaktärerna roliga, vilket gör att större delen av boken avnjuts med ett leende på läpparna.

Som om allt detta inte vore nog, behandlar Greene också allvarliga teman i boken. En mycket tydlig fråga som lyfts är vilka som egentligen är de onda i ett krig som kalla kriget? Är det kanske så att det är schackspelarna som sitter i sina varma och komfortabla kontor i respektive huvudstad och flyttar och avgör livet för sina agenter som om de vore bönder som enkelt kan offras i det strategiska spelet? Många delar av boken kan helt klart ses som satir och träffäskert förlöjligande av underrättelsetjänster och deras avhumaniseringen av den lilla människan.

Det torde vara tämligen uppenbart att jag gillar den här boken. På senare tid har det nästan blivit inflation på bra böcker, men i så fall beror det på att jag haft tur och läst bra böcker. Our Man in Havana är helt klart en av de bättre böcker jag läst och jag kommer utan tvekan att läsa mer av författaren inom kort. Innan dess har jag dock en hel del kurslitteratur att plöja (varav Macbeth kommer upp inom några dagar), så vi får tillsammans med spänning invänta nästa Graham Greene-upplevelse.

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Title: The Steep Approach to Garbadale
Author: Iain Banks
Year: 2007

There are two kinds of authors I admire: those who can write about something fairly mundane and making it interesting anyway (e.g. Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway), and those whose strength mainly comes from brilliant ideas (e.g. Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson). Up until reading The Wasp Factory, Ian Banks was firmly in the latter category, but that novel together with The Steep approach to Garbadale put the author in the unique position of straddling both categories. He is, on the one hand, able to write epic science-fiction novels teeming with ingenious ideas and beautifully laid out plots, but on the other hand, he’s also fully capable of writing about quite normal people and their lives.

The events depicted in The Steep Approach to Garbadale have nothing to do with the far-flung weirdness of Look to Windward or any other of Bank’s science fiction. It’s simply a story about the Wupold family, the world-famous originators of the board game “Empire!”, which has evolved over the years and made the family extremely rich. As the story begins, an American corporation wants to buy the company, and Alban McGill, even though he has previously sold most of his shares, sets out on a quest to stop the take over.

This novel is about much more than that, though. Primarily, it’s about Alban himself, his adolescent romantic relationship to his cousin Sophie, his adult search for meaning and his desire to know more about his mysterious background. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Alban, but there are lots of exceptions. Flashbacks are very common and the chronology is far from straightforward. In all, the picture that emerges is complex, deep and credible.

By way of introduction, I said that Banks straddles the two categories of being able to write about the normal as well as the speculative or extraordinary. The Steep Approach to Garbadale is a really good novel, but perhaps it’s a little bit too mundane. The characters are interesting and Banks’ way of writing about them (especially dialogue) is stunning as usual, but that cannot entirely make up for the fact that the basic story isn’t that original and not that exciting. However, I still think this novel is good enough to merit four snails; it definitely proves that Banks is an author of singular talent. What I would like to see now is the perfect mixture of Banks’s realistic side and his speculative side, because even though such a combination is perhaps paradoxical, if he succeeds, such a novel certainly has the potential of being among the best I’ve ever read.

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Title: Drömmar om rosor och eld
English title: Dreams of Roses and Fire
Author: Eyvind Johnson
Year: 1949

In Drömmor om rosor och eld (English title: Dreams of Roses and Fire), Nobel Prize winner Eyvind Johnson tells a tragic story of Urbain Grainier, a priest whose charismatic personality divides the city of Loudon in two halves, those who admire and love him, and those who envy and despise him. The latter group intends to bring about his downfall by accusing him of witchcraft and of being allied to Satan. The atmosphere is this novel’s strongest point. The paranoia and fear mixed with everyday problems and worries blends nicely into a credible picture of early 1600 France.

Another merit is the author’s technique of telling the story in many different ways using many separate narrators. This makes the picture more complete and the feeling of realism is further highlighted. Unfortunately, this dwelling on everyday matters tend to be long-winded at times, occasionally outright dull, spending much energy describing characters or events that hardly matter and that only have vague bearing on the story at large.

However, as is the case with most Nobel Prize winners, the language is good, even brilliant at times. Occasionally, I stop to admire a sentence, a nice linking of chapters or events. There was some controversy concerning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974, when Harry Martinson shared the prize with Eyvind Johnson, because both of them where on the panel deciding who should receive the prize. Considering that Graham Greene was a favoured candidate, I can only say that I think it is pretty clear who is the best author (knowing that one novel is not enough to assess either Johnson’s or Martinson’s qualities, I write this to exalt Graham Greene).

On the whole, though, the good things about narration and language are not enough to make up for the shortcomings described above. Drömmar om rosor och eld is worthwhile because of the language and skilfull execution, but the dullness of some chapters reduces the lustre. I shall consider reading something else by Eyvind Johnson, preferably something shorter and more to the point.

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Title: Doktor Glas
Author: Hjalmar Söderberg
Year: 1905

I admire people like Graham Greene because they can write wonderful prose without being too complicated (I am not saying that I do not like authors who use difficult words or write in an otherwise complicated way, I just say that I have a special liking to those who do not need to). Several times, I have been recommended Hjalmar Söderberg as a Swedish author capable of writing like this. Doktor Glas is probably his most famous book and has been on my list of books I want to read for a long time.

The book opens up rather weakly and did not catch my interest until after about halfway. It should be mentioned that the book measures only 125 pages in all, so half the book is not a long time to wait for something good. As it turned out, the rest of the book was good. Really good, in fact. Through diary entries, the reader follows a doctor called Glas (which would be “Glass” in English). He is haunted by his knowledge that one of his clients, a priest, is causing his wife great pain. The case is further complicated by the fact that Glas himself is rather fond of the priest’s wife. Is it ethically right to kill someone who is dislike by everybody and causes nothing but pain? Can an individual really know someone so well as to be able to absolutely sure that the act is motivated?

However, the main attraction of this novel is not the theme, but rather the marvellous way in which the diary entries are written, especially towards the end of the novel. Not only is the language beautiful in itself, but the character description is brilliant in its indirectness and depth. Glas feels very real in his loneliness, his qualms and his arguments with himself.

I recommend this book to everyone who has the slightest in common with me when it comes to literature. Few novels manage to pack so much quality onto such a small number of pages.

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