Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter
In an ideal world, I would post about a book from the 100 Best Novels list every Thursday this year. I mean, after today I already have two of the 52 taken care of, right?

*insert laughter here*

I think I'll keep aiming for two per month. After all, you I just finished telling you how crazy my life is about to get

Today's book actually is a holdover from 2013. There are still a couple of those floating about. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene falls in as the very last representative of the Modern Library list from last year.

Greene set the story on the West Coast of Africa during WWII. He based much of it on experiences he had while stationed in Sierra Leone. In the book, Major Henry Scobie manages local law enforcement, including the mission to catch diamond smugglers. His wife, Louise, lives as a bit of an outsider from the other Brits in the area. She eventually convinces Scobie to allow her to live in South Africa for a time. Her absence creates the unexpected opportunity for the highly moral Scobie to fall into adultery.

Throughout the story, Greene centers his characters around the issues of pity and failure.  Scobie's pity for his wife, for his mistress, for those in trouble with the law serves as the catalyst for his departure from the high road. At the start of the book, he is the last person anyone expects to lie or do wrong. Yet, at the end, his pity, which differs greatly from any compassion, has led him to break every moral code to which he adheres.

Scobie practices as devout Catholicism. However, his faith rapidly escalates the guilt he feels over his various sins. In the end, (spoiler alert) the weight of his failures proves to much. He stages his suicide to look like heart failure. Even in death, he cannot leave his wife with the knowledge he committed the ultimate sin.

Greene includes quite a lot of spiritual discussion in the book, something I was not expecting. While I am not Catholic myself, many of the issues Scobie wrestles with are familiar to Christians of any denomination. I found it refreshing that Green dealt so directly with Scobie's spiritual health. So many authors leave out this dimension of their characters. As someone who believes this element exists in all of us, it adds so very much to have it included in literary characters.

The Heart of the Matter really surprised me. I was expecting it to be a book which simply needed to get checked off on my 100 Best Novels journey. Instead, I enjoyed it much more than anticipated; it continues to grow on me. Much like A Passage to India, Greene's book contains much depth of meaning. There is lots to dwell on after completing the book.  The more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. I feel confident that this is a book which improves with multiple readings.

Should you choose to embark to the African coast, I caution you to go in with eyes open and the understanding that you may not fully understand or appreciate the work until you reach the end. The ending makes the journey well worthwhile. 

Pages: 272
Date Completed: December 22, 2013

Have you read a book that you appreciated more after finishing it than you did while reading it?

No comments:

Post a Comment