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Mommy, am I cult?

A former literary snob making her way back to commercial reads.

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The Silver Linings Playbook
Matthew Quick
You Should Pity Us Instead
Amy Gustine

The Human Factor

The Human Factor - Graham Greene If a chain is as strong as its weakest link, is a novel as strong as its tackiest passages?

This is my clueless (and somewhat arrogant) rant. As I always heard Greene being pictured as respected, I was very disapointed at this novel. More specifically, at its style.

This is what first raised my ears:

A couple discuss in bed. She asks him if he doesn't want a kid of his own, since he is raising Sam, her son with another man.
And he responds something like this:

“(...) I love Sam because he isn't mine. Because I don't have to see anything from me, when I look at him. I nly see something from you. I don't want to keep going forever. On the contrary, I want everything that I am to end with me.”

So here we know that the protagonist has some existencial issues, helping to picture the “Human factor” of the espionage field. Nothing that John le Carre can't do better.

This is passage could be beautiful... if inserted in an internal monologue. In a dialogue, all his deepest emotions shown so eloquently like this, like he had so much time to elaborate... it just seems off putting to me.

Like someone who watched a lot of Mexican soup operas in Netflix (meaning, I have a supernatural sense to detect tackiness), it seems like the author didn't want to develop this situation as a whole and chose this single line to approach it. We don't have any other clue that he feels this way towards his stepson besides this line. I would feel better if Greene diluted this existencial issue in a series of minor details through a lot of scenes (You know, Mad Men style), culminating somehow with that line... maybe reduced by 50%.

So as I read this, my suspicious are raised: does Greene really writes like this? Is he one of those numerous English-language mid-century novelists who are overrated? Writing passages like this, would he be known worldwide even if he was North Korean? I kept investigating.

And the internal monologues? Borderline tacky.

“...he didn't want to live in a city of God or Marx, but in a city called Peace of Spirit”

Ok, forget about the “borderline”.

There is no early physical descriptions of characters. Unless, of course, the characters are black.

Not that I think Greene is racist, on the contrary. He does an excellent job picturing "mild racism". But he is still a product of his time. Meaning, the physical description of black characters will revolve around their dark colour... and not much else. And the other characters are mostly just a sea of interchangeable white old men. Forgive me, but as someone who came from an actual miscigenated country, I find it difficult to pick randomly a bunch of different regular anglo-saxon figures from movies in my head because the author did a half-assed job of properly describing the characters.

The setting is generic. Every once in a while, Greene gives us a rich setting description. Every once in a while. So you know that you're in a bookstore. Or at the protagonist house. The blanks are not too serious here. Because, of course, you can always borrow the setting details from the same anglo-saxon movies that you used to pick the characters.

And also this:
“At the peak of love, Sarah screamed his secret tribal name”.


But not everything is terrible. The plot twists are unpredictable. Also...

The political wisdom. Do you know when you're having a discussion, and you, at the peak of your intelectual arrogance, point all your arguments with Foucault, Bertrand Russell or Chomsky when you hear a answer that is rather simple, but manages to show in just a few words a sense of wisdom that all your oh-so-wise words couldn't muster?

That novel is full of moments like this.

The timeless anti-racism point of view. Racists don't see themselves as racists. Throught the novel, a lot of self proclaimed “tolerant” characters make disastrous remarks on racial issues. Greene does an excellent job in showing their hypocrisy.

I read somewhere that this one of the less serious of his novels, intended to be read for fun. I didn't have any fun reading this novel. I don't think I'll be giving him another chance in the future, not even to his more “serious” works. I don't doubt Greene can make intelligent novels. I didn't have a problem with his ideas. What I do have a problem with, is his style.