Monday, September 7, 2015

The Heart of the Matter [1948]

Carved out of his experiences of being stationed in Sierra Leone while serving as an Intelligence Officer for the British Government, The Heart of the Matter is considered, along with Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair, as one of Greene’s four great Catholic novels. Hence, despite the highly volatile and politically charged atmosphere in which the tale is set, the novel was less of a political and more of a personal work. Voted by Time magazine and Modern Library in their respective lists of 100 best English-language novels of 20th Century, the book’s central theme dealt with the extreme moral and existential crisis of a man struggling with intense pangs of anxiety and guilt, and willingness to do good unto others, borne out of his deeply ingrained Catholicism. Set in a mosquito-ridden and poverty-plagued British colony in Western Africa during the course of WWII, it chronicled the slow descent towards doom of Major Scobie, a gentle-natured, middle-aged and lonely police officer. His marriage to Louise is strung through his sense of pity which prevents him from hurting her or causing grief, complicated by her self-centeredness, complexes and insecurities. The layered nature of his beliefs formed a striking contrast with her straightforward orthodoxy. In order to make her happy, he agrees to provide for her a passage to South Africa despite his financial constraints, and this forces him to strike a deal with the devil himself in the form of Yosef, a shrewd and fawning Syrian black marketer. After his wife’s departure, he makes the acquaintance of a 19-year widowed lady who’s survived a ship-wreck, and becomes embroiled in an affair with her, and these turn of events, coupled with his bleak socio-political environs, irrevocably pushes him towards self-destruction. Greene kept a reasonably tight leash on the sentimentality and melodramatic contents, thus making this tragic tale a thought-provoking, and for most parts, an engrossing read.

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Drama/Romance/Religious Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: UK

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