Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Graham Greene - Heart Of The Matter : Book Review

I started this blog because I discovered one fine day that I was unable to write two grammatically correct sentences that conveyed what I was thinking. I had joined a book club and in an effort to collect my thoughts before the meeting I made an attempt to write a review. I had a bunch of scattered thoughts on the book but I wanted to get it down as the written word. The black and white always helps makes arguments complete and well thought out.

In any case, my inability to express myself made me realize that I spent way too much time doing Ctrl-C Ctrl-V and formatting. The documents I produced as a part of work were so peppered with technical terms that they write themselves and when I had to present something I simply did Ctrl-C/ Ctrl-V again. As for any type of creative/recreational writing, my sentences came out as random thoughts and when I attempted to put it down with punctuation, paragraphs, capitalization I was at sea. My sentences were and still are constructed like a conversation in my head. But at least I am enjoying myself.

I go back to why started the blog because I realized that I have never written a book review after that failed attempt. And while making witty commentary (Ok so that jury is still out on that but I try) on topical news is always entertaining it is time I faced my devils.

"Heart of the Matter" is my second Graham Greene book. My first was "The End of the Affair". Greene writes in a style that I really enjoy. His language is not floral and he does not spend endless pages creating an atmosphere. My thoughts on this is probably sacrilege as far as genuine critics are concerned. What can I say? I read for my pleasure. His characters are his atmosphere and he creates the setting through their reactions to their surroundings. Whether it is heat he describes or squalor it is from the state of mind and thoughts of his characters that you get the mental picture of his/her surroundings.

Heart of the Matter is set in Africa and revolves around the morally upright and emotionally numb Scobbie. The other main characters are his wife Louise, the perennially pubescent Wilson, Yusef - the wily, black marketeer who becomes friend in need and Helen Rolt the other woman. Scobie converts to Catholicism to marry Louise who is a devout catholic. But Scobie is a thinking man with a strong inner voice. Even as seeks to appease his wife who he is unable to love anymore but feels responsible for, he also struggles with the teachings of the catholic faith that conflict with how he feels.

The book recounts Scobie's tale. In an effort to make his wife happy and "find peace" he borrows money from the black marketeer for 4% interest and funds her passage abroad. In her absence Scobie is attracted to Helen Rolt a survivor of a major ship wreck. The patterns that Scobie falls into where he seems to be with women that he must take care of is very deftly brought forth. And so begins Scobie’s downfall. Once morally upright, he is now torn apart by his adulterous behavior coupled with his debt to the black marketeer. And though his heart guides him to do the things he does his faith leaves him unhappy with the decisions he has made.

Wilson is a somewhat adolescent man with all the symptoms of the dreaded teens. He is at once passionate and unsure of himself. He reads poetry but is too afraid to admit to it for fear of ridicule. He falls in love quickly with Louise who is the first woman he spends any time with in the island and hates Scobie blindly.

The characters in this book are rich and quite original. Though you seldom sympathize with the motivations of the characters there is enough depth to make you understand them. The progression of their mental states is also done with great skill. One example is the scene where Wilson is attracted to a Black woman for the first time. What he found alien when he arrived at the island is now able to arouse him.

The one complaint I have is that Greene does far more justice to the motivations and desires of the male characters. Even Yusef who is but a greedy black marketeer has shades of his character that are brought out during his conversations with Scobie. The women on the other hand are left unanalyzed. While Scobie’s torment after adultery is noted in great detail no words are spared to note how Louise feels about kissing Wilson, or about her child’s death. Helen Rolt is left even more unanalyzed. Louise's bitterness is obvious in her conversations but Helen's view of the whole affair is completely left out. But perhaps this was intentional so that the burden that Scobie felt in his effort to make the women in his life happy could be understood by us.

A strong theme in the book is Scobie’s struggle with the catholic faith perhaps reflecting Greene's own personal struggle. He is at once a believer who still dares to question the dictums of his faith. Added to his burden to do right by his wife and mistress is also his burden to right by his God.

All in all I really enjoyed the book. And passages from it remain in my thoughts even after a couple of days. But just as a felt the last time with "End of an Affair" I will not be returning to Graham Greene for a couple of months. Such introspection though riveting to read is also a little exhausting.


Miss M said...

Doesn't sound like the kind of book I would read, but would definitely try and pick up a copy of this one.

stringOfPearls said...

greene is awesome. But it is hardly pleasant reading... Let me know if you like it

Miss M said...

Sure, i will! :)