The Quiet American – Graham Greene – Book Review

I’m going to be honest…this is slightly embarrassing to admit…but until about five years ago, I didn’t know that Graham Greene was an author. Every time I heard the name Graham Greene, I thought people were talking about this guy, the Canadian actor with the same name.

Once I understood that it was two completely different people, I was quite relieved. Since figuring this out, I have developed a soft spot for Greene the actor. He and I both know the heavy burden that comes along with growing up in the shadow of a famous writer. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Robbie, Robert Burns is far more famous than Graham Greene.’ 😉 And that may very well be so, but I am still certain that Greene was tormented in school too!

The Quiet American by Graham Greene, copyright 1955.

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 189

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Fiona @ Book Coop

It was a review by Fiona over at the Book Coop that finally convinced me that I needed to get around to Greene sooner rather than later. I send a big thank you out to Fiona, because, as it turns out, Greene is pretty darn fantastic.

Thomas Fowler is an older, British foreign correspondent for a London based newspaper and is in Indo-China covering the French war against the Vietminh.  An encounter with an American diplomat, Alden Pyle, leads to a tug-o-war between the two men for the affections of Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman. Despite the fact that Pyle is determined to win over Fowler’s girl, he is insistent that such an act should not impair relations between the two men. As the relationship and feud between the pair grows, Fowler begins to learn more about Pyle than he cares to know. It soon becomes apparent that the young American is taking advice on war tactics from questionable sources and is getting himself in deeper than he knows.

I have a tendency not to care very much for stories that are set in Eastern Asia, and, as such, I found myself somewhat less interested in the plot of this book as a result. One of the things I quite liked about The Quiet American, though, was the way in which Greene contrasted the ugliness of the war with the beauty of the country itself. I found it quite moving.

“From the bell tower of the Cathedral the battle was only picturesque, fixed like a panorama of the Boer War in an old Illustrated London News. An aeroplane was parachuting supplies to an isolated post in the calcaire, those strange weather-eroded mountains on the Annam border that look like piles of pumice, and because it always returned to the same place for its glide, it might never have moved, and the parachute was always there in the same spot, half-way to earth.” The Quiet American, page 46.

Greene would seem to be something of a master when it comes to the authenticity of his characters. He captures a believability that many other authors struggle to attain. Beyond that, I found Greene’s writing to be strikingly similar to Hemingway. The writing is both beautiful and forthright, but there is no dilly-dallying with the details. From early on in the novel I had a strange sensation that I was reading The Sun Also Rises. Both Greene and Hemingway have styles of writing that are quite flat; they lay everything on the table and, somehow, it moulds itself into something masterful.

I don’t have any other Graham Greene works on my TBR shelf, but I certainly will keep an eye out for him next time I am at the used book shop.

RATING: Hard to Bleat

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About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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6 Responses to The Quiet American – Graham Greene – Book Review

  1. Fiona says:

    Thanks for the mention and I’m glad I inspired someone to read Greene, as he fast became one of my favourite authors – for the reasons you mentioned. His forthright, non-fussy way of writing is so beautiful and always spot on. I never expected that from a male author from that kind of eara – 40’s and 50’s mostly I believe… I expected something rather more sort of… old fashioned and blokeish, but he’s actually a remarkably sensitive author.

    I recommend The End of the Affair too, possibly my favourite so far. I’ve only read three but I have many others on my TBR. Many old dilapidated copies of his books – usually the 1970’s editions end up in second hand shops so I’ve been picking them up mostly like that.

  2. Fiona says:

    Oh I see that was the book I reviewed on my book… I thought it had been this one actually. I must be getting confuddled.

  3. Fiona says:

    Oh I see that was the book I reviewed on my blog… I thought it had been this one actually. I must be getting confuddled.

  4. Shelley says:

    Oh, how I love Graham Greene, and this was the first one by him that I read. It’s funny, I always say that I dislike Hemingway, but I haven’t read anything by him since high school. I had better try again, because if he writes like Greene, I think I just may be a fan!

    • Robbie says:

      I think a lot of people get put off Hemingway in high school because they have to read The Old Man and the Sea which is really not very good. Some people rave about it, but it was the first Hemingway I read and I don’t think it compares at all to the rest of his writing.

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