10 February 2015

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene

I might just not be a Graham Greene fan. I recall having similar feelings after reading The Quiet American, though I've largely forgotten that book: that while I appreciate his prose, it does not seem to engage me emotionally. The vaguely convoluted, hazy plot combined with a fervent, even anguished sort of emotion serves to alienate me from the characters. I watch them with a sort of detached pity: they seem very unhappy. Perhaps they are not very good people, but maybe nobody really is. Or maybe they actually are quite good, and their apparent sins are not so bad. In Greene's world(s), it's very hard to tell.

This novel tells the story of a priest in Mexico who is on the run from a government that is committed to executing the clergy. He is very unhappy, not only because he is on the run, but also because he is a bad priest. Consumed with both guilt and fear, he almost wants to get caught, just so to end his torment. The Lieutenant who pursues him is also deeply unhappy, because he sees how much the people are suffering, and also because he is taking hostages from among them and executing them in an effort to capture the priest. The people, obviously, are the worst off of all, yet they have an almost bovine stoicism punctuated by occasional flares of annoyance or rage which do nothing to stifle their benevolence and ability to behave with utter selflessness. Or is it stupid superstition; the narrator can't seem to decide.

The attempt to prose the moral depths of Catholicism is not uninteresting, but the idea mostly seemed to be that it is all very murky. The plot had occasional moments of breathless suspense, but also seemed oddly interminable, until, boom, it was over. The denouement had a certain mechanistic quality, as though the pieces were obediently slotting into place.

Like I said: I might just not be a Graham Greene fan.

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