Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Third Man [1949]

An interesting aspect about The Third Man is that, though it formed the basis for the Carol Reed masterpiece, it was written by Greene as a source text for his screenplay. This information, combined with the fact that I’d loved the British Noir, makes disassociating the two a rather tricky proposition. In itself, the book reminded me of his masterpiece The Quiet American in the way both dealt with personal dilemmas against murky post-WWII socio-political backdrops in his captivating style wherein the bitter cynicism, rich moodiness and a deep sense of fatalism deftly masked the underlying melancholia that formed the link between the personal and the political. Set in war-ravaged Vienna, with the majestic yet defeated city having become a playground for the 4 Allied powers, the tale kick-starts with Rollo Martins, a writer of pulpy Westerns, arriving at the behest of his childhood friend Harry Lime, only to discover that he has died under mysterious circumstances. That, combined with allegations of black market racketeering, and his hero-worship towards the maverick and enigmatic man who he considered his best friend, compels him towards an amateur investigation on his own. Not only does this lead to reinforcement of certain ugly truths and revelation of a neat twist, he also finds himself falling for Lime’s sad-eyed mistress. Though there were very few departures from the film, the one most noteworthy was Greene’s choice of narrator – the story here was chronicled by the cynical yet fair-minded Major Calloway, and was presented as his best efforts in putting together pieces through his logical interpretations. The brisk pacing, strong atmospherics, pulpy characterizations, staccato prose and Greene’s mastery in finding deep romanticism in the most desolate of scenarios, made me glad that I’d decided to read this novella despite, as the author made it amply clear in the preface, it “was never written to be read but only to be seen.”

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Romantic Noir/Crime Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK

Monday, June 15, 2015

Humboldt's Gift [1975]

The kind of self-deprecatory humour and wry sense of irony that Saul Bellow possessed – the ability to hold a prying magnifying glass to the foibles, quirks and idiosyncrasies of his own self – is truly a rare trait. In the vein of his celebrated masterpiece Herzog written a decade earlier, the Pulitzer Prize winning Humboldt’s Gift, which contributed to Bellow being conferred with the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a bitingly funny, unabashedly self-mocking and quietly poignant account of the author’s erudite and self-contained alter-ego, and roman à clef too given its fictionalization of Bellow’s friendship with the poet Delmore Schwartz. Mentor-protégé relationship and changing nature of a complex friendship, thus, formed key thematic strands along with reflections on what constitutes as Art, blazing critique on Materialistic America and meditation on the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death. The novel, written in a free-flowing style, with the narrative seamlessly jumping back and forth in time and across spaces, dealt with the love-hate relationship between Charlie Citrine, the story’s neurotic and intellectual Chicago-born narrator who earned fame in the form of the Pulitzer and Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur as well as fortune when his play was adapted for the Broadway, but is now financially struggling courtesy an acrimonious divorce proceeding and affair with an attractive but hard-to-please lady, and Von Humboldt Fleisher, a renowned New York poet who’d earned reverence for his brilliance but died an unstable, embittered, penurious and forgotten old man, bound by their shared love for literature. Citrine’s personal and professional crises are further exacerbated by the small-time, unpredictable hoodlum Rinaldo Cantabile who literally thrusts himself upon his life which is already in spectacular disarray. The story alternated between labyrinthine chronicle of Citrine’s past and present, and his stream-of-consciousness commentary on a wide array of topics, including ruminations on Chicago’s changing landscapes and even something as ludicrous as anthroposophy, imbued this dazzling work with deeply personal hues.

Author: Saul Bellow
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Existentialist Drama/Stream-of-Consciousness
Language: English
Country: US