I’ve read two other Greene novels besides this one, The End of the Affair and The Captain and the Enemy, and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to get when I pick up one of his books, but I know I love his writing. This is one of his later novels in an incredible career that began in the 20s and lasted until the late 80s. I always think of him as a classic author, but it seems odd to include anything written in my lifetime, so I tend to fall back on the arbitrary ‘fifty year’ rule with him.
Anyway, this is a spy novel of a much more realistic fashion than what we typically see. The protagonist, Maurice Castle, is no James Bond. He’s a middle-aged man who works at a desk and looks forward to retirement. He did have, what seems like, a more exciting position in South Africa during apartheid, where he had to flee the country with a black woman who later became his wife. They now live a quiet life with their child in London.
A piece of confidential information, under his small department’s jurisdiction, made its way into Communist hands. There are three main suspects, of which Castle is one, and his calm life starts to become much more tense. It’s a slow build throughout the novel, and while it certainly isn’t action-packed, it was an exciting read. In his autobiography, Greene wrote that he wanted “to write a novel of espionage free from the conventional violence, which has not, in spite of James Bond, been a feature of the British Secret Service”, and I would say he pulled it off exceptionally well.
Hate is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates.
The relationships in this felt very real to me, and I just loved the dialogue. He got across a lot in a few words, and he was surprisingly funny at times, which I appreciate. There are small moments of humour in even the most tragic of times, and I think a lot of authors can forget that.
I can definitely say I’m a fan, at this point. The only other unread Greene novel on my shelf is The Tenth Man, which I’ll likely get to later this year.