Tag Archives: Graham Greene

The Weightless World – Anthony Trevelyan

Sometimes the title of a book can call to you and for some reason The Weightless World was one such title from the moment it arrived in the post. It intrigued me without even having to have read a page (or as you can see below without any illustration on the cover, though in its own way that is also intriguing enough). Throw in the fact that it was a debut (I do like a debut novel, all those idea’s all that energy) and was from an independent press, the press who published A Girl is a Half Formed Thing no less, and three of my favourite ‘I am strongly inclined to read this’ boxes were ticked. Before I knew it, I was off adventuring with an unlikely group of fellows in India.

Galley Beggar Press, 2015, paperback, fiction, 265 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Raymond Ess is going to kill me.
This is the thought I can’t stop thinking. One way and another I have been thinking it for years, though I used to mean something like Raymond Ess is going to be annoyed at me or Raymond Ess is asking too much of me. I don’t mean either of those things now. I just mean he is going to kill me.
One night soon, when he find out what I’ve done. Raymond Ess is going to slip quietly into my room and murder me in my bed. He’s going to stab me through the sheets with a kitchen knife, crush my throat with his speckled hands, and he’s not going to do it because he’s mad, though he is (stark, staring); he’s going to do it because it’s what I deserve. Because it’s the only punishment that fits the crime.

They say that the opener of a book should instantly draw the reader in. The Weightless World  pulls you in with some force. We soon discover that the Raymond Ess is not some psychopathic monster hunting our narrator, Steven Strauss, down but actually his boss and Steven has done something he believes is so terrible it is worthy of murder. But what? Well, obviously that is the question that a lot of the book is based around so I am not going to tell you. What I can say is that Steven has ended up on the other side of the world from his home in England and is now on a trip to India with his boss to go and find an antigravity machine. Yes, an antigravity machine.

What makes this all the more intriguing, and frankly bizarre, is that Ess found this antigravity machine when he was away in India finding himself after having a mental breakdown of sorts which meant he had to take leave from the company he cofounded, Resolution Aviation. The company he has also almost driven to bankruptcy after a big gamble that went massively wrong. Whilst on his travels in India he got lost from his guide Asha and found himself in the middle of nowhere where in a wooden hut near a river he found recluse Tarik Kundra who just happened to have build a machine that can make anything (including concrete moulds of swimming pools) defy gravity. Now, with Steven and Asha in tow, he wants to find him again and make the company and himself millions once more.

Now I have to say as the novel went on I was slightly unsure I was going to get along with it. The reasons for this being I don’t like books based around business and work colleagues (hence why I was one of the only people on earth who didn’t like Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End) and also because on the mention of antigravity, whilst making the wonderful title make complete sense, I had an ‘uh-oh this is going to end up going to space’ moment. I was wrong on the latter count as we don’t go to space, well maybe one character does, and whilst yes this is a book about business I rather enjoyed it because at its heart I think The Weightless World is something of a farce.

In actual fact as I was reading Trevelyan’s debut I kept thinking of Graham Greene and both The Ministry of Fear and also in particular Our Man In Havana. Not because this is a spy story, though there is an element of that thrown in, but because The Weightless World  is very much a tale of a bumbling white middle class male a little bit lost and out of kilter with everything, except his girlfriend Alice when he can reach her on Skype, who somehow starts to find himself in the most random and adverse of situations, as his naturally complicates them no end. Also, like Greene, it is brilliantly written with some stunning prose even when Trevelyan is merely writing about the complexities of a Skype call.

I stare at the screen. The circles ping, ping. Then the wifi icon shrivels, the circles dim then blip to nothing and the screen holds nothing but futile light.
Somewhere on the face of the earth Alice is staring into her laptop. She’s waiting for it to conjure me, incarnate me. But the magic has failed. She is there and I am here and the curve of the planet turns stubbornly, irreducibly between us.

I have to admit that on occasion I did get a little lost. As the characters build, from just Ess and Steven to Ess, Steven, Asha and Harry (a slightly smarmy and seemingly untrustworthy business man who tags along after he invites himself) there are occasionally moments you feel that you haven’t quite got a handle on them and indeed sometimes they haven’t quite got a handle on themselves. There is a lot of ‘do you know what is going on?’ said to one another which is often both funny and slightly confusing and distancing so I would have to go back and figure things out. This is a minor grumble as Trevelyan offers a lot more going on below the farces facade.

What I think The Weightless World is about on deeper level is the relationship between India and the UK (and indeed the Western World). As Steven and Ess adventure on India broods in the background both with its trading, be it big business or on the market stalls in the streets, its western interference to dominate and ‘make good’ whilst also making profit (there is a poignant moment involving a collapsed warehouse) and also the instability India has with and without interventions; as Steven and Ess arrive there is a huge bomb in Banaglore. It is also a book about the brilliance, nightmare and reliance that we put on technology and how sometimes, with a very moving story back in the UK with Steven’s girlfriend Alice, we feel the world has got much smaller and that technology can placate and replace reality. An interesting debut indeed.

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Trespassing with Tremain…

It has been a year since Gran died. A year which seems to have gone all too quickly and also weirdly slowly all at once. How does time do that? Naturally I have thought about her daily since, at the weirdest of times, and missed her a huge amount both as my Gran and also as being one of the most bookish influences I had around me. I miss speaking three times a week about anything and everything and ending up on seeing how we were getting on with X or Y book, I still finish a book and wondering if she would like it, I miss reading the same book and having the same good or bad thoughts on it or polar opposite thoughts which we could get into heated debates about, I miss discussing our latest book group lists and meetings. The list could go on.

I was umming and ahhhhing how to mark the year since her passing. Did I mention it? Did I just let life go on? Having recently read one of the books I inherited from her, A Month in the Country, and loving it so much I thought maybe it was time to do something like Greene for Gran again and see if, like you all did amazingly last year, you would like to join in. The question was who or what to read?

My initial thought was to go for authors that she loved that I had read like Graham Greene last year. The choices could be Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, William Trevor, Antony Trollope (gulp) and Anne Tyler etc. Yet the bittersweet joy, because I couldn’t talk to her about it afterwards, in reading A Month in the Country was that she had introduced me to a new author and favourite book, even though (annoyingly) she doesn’t know it. I also decided that I quite fancied a more contemporary, and indeed living, author would make a change. So I ransacked my brain for the authors she had lots of books by and I had read and the answer was obvious…

Trespassing-With-Tremain2

Rose Tremain, Gran raved and raved about Restoration, The Colour, The Road Home, Music and Silence and Trespass. In fact I seem to remember giving my proof/new incoming copies of anything Tremain because I knew the buzz she would get from having them early. I think she had almost all of Rose Tremain’s thirteen novels and a few of her short story collections. I can also remember how annoyed she would get when she asked if I had read any of them, ironically forgetting I had sent them her way, and my response would be ‘not yet, but I will’ with the response ‘you’d better.’

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Well Gran, guess what, in honour of you I am going to try Trespassing with Tremain into all the different era’s and lives that she writes about. I am thinking of reading and writing about four of her books and one of her short story collections – one every fortnight – from the 10th of August until the 5th of October. I will announce which ones when in due course, after your recommendations really. So where to start and who is up for joining me and hopefully finding some more great reads?

 

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Other People’s Bookshelves #44; Jon Morgan

Hello and welcome to a return of Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. After a small break we are back and visiting Jon Morgan, a Savidge Reader, who has kindly offered to tell us more about his books, himself and let us have a nosey round! Before we do let’s find out more about him…

I am a 52 year old soon-to-be retired London senior police officer (yes some of us can read – the old East German joke – why do the police go around in threes – answer: One who can read one who can write and one to watch the other two dangerous intellectuals) subscribing to Rupert Brooke’s dictum that ‘Life is so flat you can see your tombstone from the other end.’ And Graham Greene: ‘Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil or else an absolute ignorance.’ As well as Baudelaire: ‘Ma jeunesse ne fût qu’un ténèbreux orage, traversé ça et là par de brillants soleils.’ My book interests are eclectic, reflecting early middle and late interests. Philosophy – ‘Even a bad book is a book and is therefore sacred’ and following Erasmus ‘If I have money I will buy books, if I have any leftover I may buy food.’ Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read…’ Arthur Ransome said many wise things (Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, will not drown) and produced the greatest children’s literature ever. He wrote ‘Any book worth reading by children is also worth reading by adults, but children begin by being omnivorous, to them, the miracle of being able to read, makes any book miraculous. A couple of second rate books can blunt that new-found faculty of reading… A real book becomes part of a reader’s innermost life.’ Genius!

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

Books deserve to see the light and almost all are on the shelves. Childhood books are unfortunately in the loft WE Johns, CS Forester, CS Lewis etc due to a real and pressing lack of space. I don’t buy book I do not want to read and rarely get rid of them unless I have seriously misjudged.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Usually grouped by author although the system I had in my last place displayed some favouritism. Nowadays all the French books are displayed by era and biogs included with subject author. I prefer some chaos it is more natural….The constant changing of size by publishers is frustrating i.e. paperbacks of a particular author are all the same size until some idiot in the marketing dept. decides to make the new one bigger and the location and shelf space wont comply…. Leads to author separation and a frustrating few minutes when I want to find something – not easy amongst three floors of books and 7000 plus in total. Books to be read i.e. recently bought, used to be on two tottering piles by the bed. They grew to over 6 feet tall and one night I was woken by what seemed and earthquake. Two piles fell over. I managed to squeeze a large bookcase into a small space to accommodate them but the piles gave re-formed. Recently read are on a pile on the other side of the bed….. Cull, what is this cull concept. Books are friends. You do not cull friends.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Probably a WE Johns ‘Biggles’ book, which are all in the loft. I remember being in hospital as a young teen in central London and sneaking out to Charing Cross Road and buying The Fabulous Mr Wilkes, about the 18th century rake, rebel and politician. I still have it and it is still a good read.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Never be ashamed of any book you own!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

It is a book I used at university and it was so cogent and clear of thought that I determined to buy my own copy after leaving. L.T.T Topsfield’s study of the medieval author Chretien de Troyes. It was a small fortune £45.00 in 1983. The other one is a study of the work of Jean Racine which again I used a college, heavily annotated, It was not until I got it home one holiday that my late father told me the author had taught him at Cambridge in the 50’s Odette De Mourgue’s Jean Racine -The Triumph of Relevance.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

The Railway Navvies – Terry Coleman. Fantastic study of the construction of the railways and of the perilous life of the navvies and their gross exploitation by the boss class

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To my shame, I rarely borrow from the local library, and I know that I am one of those who would shout loudest if it were threatened. Unlike when I was young I can now afford to buy the books I want, ether second-hand or new and sometimes even from the behemoth that is Amazon if my conscience does not overrule my wallet. That is such a privilege. Like Erasmus I would rather go hungry than not buy books!

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Martin Walker’s latest Bruno, Chief Of Police – the Children of War. A great character set in la France Profonde.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

None specifically although no doubt I will think of one after pressing ‘send’!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Odd, eclectic, Have you really read all of these? / Not really sure what I would like them to think. Books are, or become, friends. They do reflect my tastes, interest and personality. They are not there for show. They demonstrate a profound love of the book as a human achievement – long may it rule!

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A huge thanks to Jon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Books of 2013; Part I

With two days of 2013 to go, I thought it was time to share my books of the year. In the tradition I have set over the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, there will be two posts of my books of the year. Today it is the books that were published before 2013 and tomorrow the ones that were published for the first time in the UK this year. Interestingly today’s list has proved so much easier than tomorrows as it seems I didn’t really read many books published before 2013 – and when I did only a few of them blew me away, those ones were…

10. Chocolat – Joanne Harris

I have to say that even though I had seen the film, though it has been a while, ‘Chocolat’ as a book was a whole lot darker and less twee than I thought it would be before picking it up. One of the many things that I admired so much about it was that under the tale of outsiders coming to a place, and quietly causing mayhem, there was the huge theme of people’s individuality and that being different should be celebrated and not ostracised, yet ‘Chocolat’ is also cleverly not a book that smacks you over the head with a moralistic tone.

9. The Detour – Gerbrand Bakker

‘The Detour’ won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year and having read it you can easily see why. Bakker creates a story that is subtle and slow burning yet all at once brimming with a sense of mystery and menace. It is also a book that will linger on with the reader long after you have read it and, if you are like me, long after it devastates you with both its prose and most importantly its story. A much recommended book.

8. The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

7. Riotous Assembly – Tom Sharpe

The more I have thought about Riotous Assembly, the more impressed I have been left by it. The humour gets you through some of the tough bits, some of the bits that people would normally find hard to read and digest palatable by their humour yet equally devastating, if not more so, when the reader realizes the truth in it. So yet there maybe the boobies (and more) and bullets (and more) in it that I was expecting, but the way in which they are used is both titillating and thought provoking.

6. The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

5. Good Evening Mrs Craven; The Wartime Stories – Mollie Panter Downes

I think Mollie Panter-Downes writing is astounding. I really remember liking it last time but this time I loved it. There are the wonderful, often rather quirky, characters some of whom, like Mrs Ramsey, Mrs Peters and Mrs Twistle, keep returning in and out of the stories which helps build the consistency of the world Panter-Downes describes as they run from 1939 to 1944, the tone changing slightly as the book goes on. She can bring a character to life in just a mere sentence or two and the brevity of her tales and how much they make your mind create is quite astounding.

4. The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing

Lessing’s writing is unflinchingly brilliant. As I mentioned about the sense of menace and oppression is wonderfully evoked as the landscape and weather match the atmosphere of impending doom the book has and also Mary’s mental state. Mary is also an incredible creation, one of the most complex characters I have read. She is never completely likeable nor dislikeable, yet you find yourself fascinated by a woman who in turns goes from victim to venomous, from independent to weak, from sane to crazy, from racist to not and back again. It is confronting and equally compelling and highlights the society at the time and the conundrum and conflict a country and its society found itself in and in some ways, shockingly, still does.

3.Mariana – Monica Dickens

If someone had told me this is what the book was going to be about before I started I might have been inclined to think that this book really wouldn’t be for me. Yet I loved every single page of it and was completely lost in Mary’s life. Part of that was to do with the character of Mary that Monica creates, she isn’t the picture perfect heroine at all, she can be moody, ungainly and awkward, a little self centred on occasion but she is always likeable, her faults making her more endearing even when she can be rather infuriating. Part of it was also all the characters around her, I want to list them all but there are so many it would be madness, some of them delightful, some spiteful but all of them drawn vividly and Monica Dickens has a wonderful way of introducing a new character with the simplest of paragraphs which instantly sums them up. All of these characters are part of the many things that make you go on reading ‘Mariana’, every page or two someone new lies in store.

2. HHhH – Laurent Binet

I don’t think I have learnt so much about World War II from a book I have read in all my 31, nearly 32, years. Considering that I studied it for about five years in my history lessons at school this is quite something. I had no idea about some of the smaller but utterly fascinating facts behind this time period; that the Hitler wanted authors such as Aldous Huxley, Rebecca West, HG Wells and Virginia Woolf; that the Nazi’s built their own brothel (Kitty’s Salon) to film other Nazi’s to see if they were true to the regime or not. Nor did I know of some of the utterly horrific things, like what an ineffectual plonker Chamberlain was, the plans for Nazi attack cells in all the cities all over the UK and the horrendous atrocities such as Grandmothers Gully in Kiev.

1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

… there is very little doubt in my mind that ‘The House of Mirth’ is an absolute masterpiece and could easily be one of my favourite books. I loved Wharton’s prose, her humour and the fact she did completely the opposite of what I was expecting with Lily’s story which alas I can’t discuss in detail for I would completely spoil it for you if you have yet to read it – if that is the case you must go and get it now. Lily Bart walked fully off the page for me and I found myself thinking about her a lot when I wasn’t reading the book. Reading it is an experience, and I don’t say that often. One thing is for sure, I will not be forgetting the tale of Lily Bart for quite some time and I believe I will be returning to it again and again in the years to come.

So that is the first of my selection of books of 2013. I have only taken a small quote from my thoughts on each book, to find out more click on the link to each book. Which of these have you read and what did you think? I have realised I need to get into more of the books from the past and less of the shiny new ones, but that is for discussion more in the New Year. Any other books by these authors that you would recommend I read in 2014?

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Travels With My Aunt – Graham Greene

Once again, this time with ‘Travels With My Aunt’ my final Greene for Gran read, Graham Greene has done that thing of writing a book which I loved, got a bit frustrated and bored with and then sat back and thought about and have decided that whilst it wasn’t my favourite read of all time it is a bloody clever book indeed. Oh Gran… why oh why can’t you be on the end of the phone anymore for me to have a good old natter with you about this book? So frustrating, thankfully I have lots of you to discuss it with hopefully.

Vintage Classics, 1969 ( 1999 edition), paperback, 262 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Henry Pulling is a retired man who is very comfortable with his life, he doesn’t really want for anything and the highlight of excitement in his life are his dahlias which he tends to in a way some might say could be bordering on obsession. No gardening pun intended on the ‘bordering’ there. That is until the funeral of his mother and the arrival of his long lost septuagenarian (a word I will be promptly adding to my vocabulary) Aunt Augusta. From their first meeting at the funeral of his mother, where Aunt Augusta announces that his mother might not have been his mother at all, and the coffee in her apartment after, where he meets her man servant/lover Wentworth who swaps Henry’s mothers ashes for some marijuana, you know things are not going to be all flowers and regularly delivered cooked favourite meals before.

“I was weeding the dahlias, the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems, when my telephone began to ring. Being unused to the sound which shattered all the peace in my little garden, I assumed it was a wrong number. I had very few friends, although before my retirement I boasted a great many acquaintances.”

Aunt Augusta is what many people would politely describe as a ‘character’, those who might want to be more base would say she was a slightly crazy woman in her seventies who isn’t against the odd illegal action along with an abundance of sex from many a lover, which as we learn has always been the way. She is brass, quite coarse, a bit vulgar and rather naughty (for which I naturally loved her) and also a woman of a certain sense of danger, darkness and mystery (which I naturally wanted to discover more of) in fact of all Greene’s characters I have come across Aunt Augusta is probably my favourite and cleverly Greene never allows her to become a farce no matter how funny or crude she is being. I did often laugh out loud at paragraphs like this.

‘I very much doubt it,’ she said. ‘My dear Henry,’ she added, ‘at my age one has ceased to expect a relationship to last. Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion. I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’   

It was strange reading this later, 1969, Greene novel as for the first fifty or so pages of the book I felt like this was an author simply writing for the pleasure of it (it was his twentieth novel after all) and it seemed much more carefree. A simple tale of a happy, but boring, man who meets a wild relative and finds himself gallivanting all over the world on her whims/dodgy dealings. Then throw in some crazy characters, like a CIA Agent who counts the amount of minutes he spends urinating every day, and lots of rather rude titillation and hey presto an entertaining romp. That would have done me fine. Yet like ‘Our Man From Havana’ Greene also has a lot more going on with the book which slowly comes to focus as the laughter started to lessen.

To hand it to Greene he fits a lot in with this book. He looks at prostitution, the Nazi regime and how WWII changed the world, the plight of third world countries and even manages to swing in some commentary on the apartheid in South Africa along with how the pill had, rightly or wrongly, changed women’s sexual awakening and responsibility. Oh and (just for a change, possibly a sign of too much of an author not always being a good thing as it really got on my wick in this book) of course the subject of religion and Greene’s favourite topic of conversation Catholicism.

With the admiration of all these ‘hot topics’ that Greene interweaves within ‘Travels With My Aunt’ also comes a slight criticism for me. I felt that Greene suddenly worried he was almost having too much fun and that actually really we should be focussed on these subjects in hand and think on. Whilst it did add meat to the book, for me it also really bogged me down. I found the final part of the book, which to be fair is only 80 pages of the novels total, a real slog until Greene suddenly stepped it up a gear leading to the ending, which I guessed part of and then had a real ‘yuck’ feeling around the final two sentences.

Greene does this too me a lot as an author, leaves me feeling like I have read something rather brilliant even if I didn’t always enjoy the whole thing, more the sum of his parts. His prose is always lush and masterful and yet his plots sometimes make me ponder. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ could have just been a really entertaining and quirky read, and in many ways it remains that, there is just a little bit of a forced feeling of an author wanting to be deemed worthy that dampens it on occasion and makes the book feel much longer than it is. Or am I being too harsh?

Gran and I would have argued the toss about this for a few hours I am sure, with me possibly having to admit defeat at some point, but then the best books inspire debate don’t they –  so thanks Gran for making me give this a whirl! Greene will certainly be an author I will be returning to… though maybe not in quite such a concentrated dose. What have been your thoughts on Greene, and if any of you have read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ did you find the deeper undertones a little too try hard, or did they make the book a more fulfilling reading experience for you?

And don’t forget to let me know if you have read any Greene’s for Gran, what you thought of them and if you reviewed them where you did so.

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The Greene For Gran Gang!

So back at the end of July I decided that in honour of my lovely Granny Savidge Reads, who sadly passed away last month after a courageous battle with a tumour, that as she was such a bookish influence on me I should do something to commemorate that and her here on the blog, where she came to know some of you and vice versa. Her favourite author, well one of them, was Graham Greene and after the eulogy I gave at her funeral ended with me telling everyone to ‘go and grab a Greene for Gran’ I would do the same here and so Greene for Gran was born.

Well I have to admit, I was utterly blown away by the response and how many of you said you would spread the word and give Greene a go. Brilliant. I decided to go Greene crazy and read four very different novels of his. Well, I didn’t quite manage to complete the #GreeneForGran challenge that I set myself, but three out of four isn’t so bad – especially considering I have been working on an inaugural month long music festival. Plus, as with my experiences of his books before, Greene is one of those authors that I really, really like and sometimes find a little bit baffling. I utterly LOVED ‘The Ministry of Fear’ and yet really didn’t love ‘The Quiet American’; you will have to wait a teeny bit longer to see how I got on with ‘Travels With My Aunt’.

I haven’t managed ‘The Heart of the Matter’ but actually I think that is a good thing. Because I don’t want to only read Greene for Gran just for one month, I want books and an author (along with Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Andrea Levy and many more) that I can read from time to time and will make me think of Gran (I had a slightly emotional moment starting Atkinson’s ‘Life for Life’ the other day as I wanted to phone Gran and tell her how great it was and how she should read it) in the future, and I think a lot of books will.

Anyway, before I get too mushy, here are some links to those of you who have been reading some Graham Greene books and who may, or may not, get you dashing off to do the same – if you haven’t had incentive enough already – I am calling them Gran’s Gang, ha!

The Ministry of Fear

Some guy named Simon of Savidge Reads
Heaven Ali
Nose In A Book

The Quiet American

Harriet Devine
That pesky Savidge Reads again

England Made Me

Annabel’s House of Books

Stamboul Train

Harriet Devine
Heaven Ali

The Third Man/No Man’s Land

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

Annabel’s House of Books

Now as I mentioned I still have my thoughts on ‘Travels With My Aunt’ to come and I am pretty sure that I have missed lots and lots of reviews, my brain is addled after the last week, so if you have blogged about Greene or when you do please let me know and I will add you to the gang. If you don’t have a blog let me know what Greene books you have read and what you thought of them down there too, is lovely to see Gran’s love of a good book spreading, I just wish she could have a good natter with us about them!

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Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran

The Quiet American – Graham Greene

And so a little belatedly we come to the second in my ‘Greene for Gran’ series and one I feel a little bit awkward about. In part because I feel a fool for struggling so long with such a short book and in the main because I was severely underwhelmed by it and has it not been in Gran’s honour it would have been a book that would have felt the tough love of my new reading rule. Yet, in fairness I don’t think it was all the fault of ‘The Quiet American’, or even Graham Greene, himself that I didn’t love it, maybe. Let me explain…

Vintage Classics, 1955 ( 2004 edition), paperback, 221 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Quiet American’ opens with Thomas Fowler waiting for his friend Alden Pyle, very swiftly we learn that Pyle is dead and that people suspect that there may be foul play. As Fowler is informed of this he starts to tell us the story of how he met Pyle, himself being British and Pyle being American, in the surroundings of Hanoi during the First Indochina War. Fowler has come as a journalist to report on the war, Pyle is more mysterious yet they befriend each other until a love triangle with Fowler’s, who is married back in Britain, mistress Phuong. Intrigue and mystery are abounds…

‘You sound like a friend of his,’ Vigot said, looking past me at Phuong. A native policeman came in with three cups of black coffee.
‘Or would you rather have tea?’ Vigot said
‘I am a friend,’ I said. ‘Why not? I shall be going home in one day, won’t I? I can’t take her with me. She’ll be alright with him. It’s a reasonable arrangement. And he’s going to marry her, he says. He might, you know. He’s a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental. A quiet American,’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘a white elephant.’

…Well they should have been, but for me it was a mixture of being very confused to start off with and then finding the ending a little too blindingly obvious. If you haven’t read the book and want to miss a possible hint that could be a spoiler skip to the next paragraph. You see initially I was intrigued then it became so obvious what had happened that I was a bit cross, did Greene think I, his reader, was that stupid? To be fair many people who guessed the ending too would possibly then see this book as a very clever and twisting ‘whydunnit’, I just got confused and bored. I simply couldn’t get a hold on the book both in the plot and in the style.

The plot of the book, once you get to the end, all makes sense – well sort of if you do some googling – but I didn’t feel that Greene successfully explained to you what was going on with the First Indochina War sufficiently, he seemed to expect you to know the setting. Now this of course I imagine is in part because the book came out close to when the war was and also possibly because as Greene had been there himself (which makes the atmosphere so right in the book) he simply assumed you would get it. I didn’t. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that just a paragraph can flip between Fowler telling you something in his present and then flipping to his past and back again. It made me a bit grumpy and I alas I just wasn’t enjoying it, even when things got much better and twisty at the end (as several of you who supported me through it on Twitter said it would), it had lost me.

Now to be fair I will say that the idea of the book, in hindsight, is a bloody brilliant one. It is just that the execution didn’t work for me which meant the clever twists that came, which I admired so much in ‘The Ministry of Fear’ fell on deaf ears. However as always Greene’s prose and his sense of atmosphere was just marvellous and stopped me from hurling the book across the room. (Gran would be pleased with me for trying to find some saving graces here.) I do also think the timing and the way I started reading the book might have had something to do with it all too.

When I started ‘The Quiet American’ firstly I was in the middle of a really stressful, information filled, final bonkers planning week at work and secondly as the book hadn’t arrived I was reading it on my K*****!! I have been dabbling with reading on my devil’s device of late and I am discovering that it doesn’t always encourage full mental focus. If I have been on a computer all week reading for pleasure on a screen isn’t so much pleasure (a whole separate subject) and in this case I think it added to my confusion, my eyes would glaze a bit at the screen and so I was re-reading and re-reading paragraphs whilst having a mass of ‘work stuff’ to digest mentally too. So that probably didn’t help.

I think the best way to surmise and stop waffling is probably to say that ‘The Quiet American’ is probably a very good book but not the right book for me right now. It seemed to be a case of ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ and as I know it is a favourite of so many I am sure that is the case. One to pop on the shelves and save to read again sometime in the future I think. (Gran would be proud of my attitude here too, ha!)

Who else has read ‘The Quiet American’ and if so what did you think? I would love to hear from some of you who have read it and found it a real favourite, and indeed any of you who like me felt a bit out of their depth. What other Greene’s are you picking up?

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Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books