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The Heart of the Matter (Essential Penguin Paperback) Mass Market Paperback – 9 Mar 1998

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition (9 Mar. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140278753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140278750
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 855,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Graham Greene was born in 1904. He worked as a journalist and critic, and in 1940 became literary editor of the Spectator. He was later employed by the Foreign Office. As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography, two of biography and four books for children. He also wrote hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in April 1991.

Product Description


"The most ingenious, inventive and exciting of our novelists, rich in exactly etched and moving portraits of real human beings" (V. S. Pritchett The Times)

"Greene was a master of characterisation and this book is no exception" (Independent on Sunday)

"In a class by himself - the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man's consciousness and anxiety" (William Golding Independent)

"A superb storyteller with a gift for provoking controversy" (New York Times)

"Greene had the sharpest eyes for trouble, the finest nose for human weaknesses, and was pitilessly honest in his observations... For experience of a whole century he was the man within" (Norman Sherry Independent) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Winner of the 1948 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and considered one of the best English language novels of the twentieth century. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on 20 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
Over forty years ago a new English teacher at my school answered a question asked by an eager student. The question was, "What do you think is the greatest novel written in English?" He didn't think for very long before replying, "The Heart Of The Matter."

We academically-inclined youths borrowed Graham Greene's novel from the library and eventually conferred. There were shrugs, some indifference, appreciation without enthusiasm. We were all about sixteen years old.

I last re-read The Heart Of The Matter about twenty-five years ago. When I began it again for the fourth time last week, I could still remember vividly the basics of its characters and plot. Henry Scobie is an Assistant Chief of Police in a British West African colony. It is wartime and he has been passed over for promotion. He is fifty-ish, wordly-wise, apparently pragmatic, a sheen that hides a deeply analytical conscience. Louise, his wife is somewhat unfocusedly unhappy with her lot. She is a devout Catholic and this provides her support, but the climate is getting to everyone. She leaves for a break that Scobie cannot really afford. He accepts debt.

The colony's businesses are run by Syrians. Divisions within their community have roots deeper than commercial competition. There is "trade" of many sorts. There are accusations, investigations, rumours and counter-claims. Special people arrive to look into things. There's a suicide, more than one, in fact, at least one murder, an extra-marital affair, blackmail, family and wartime tragedy.

But above all there is the character of Henry Scobie. He is a man of principle who thinks he is a recalcitrant slob. He is a man of conscience who presents a pragmatic face.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gitau Githinji on 4 Aug. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Heart of the Matter achieves the rare feat of being a riveting page-turner and, at the same time, a thought provoking, serious novel. It is curiously reminiscent of George Orwell's Burmese Days. In both books the hero is an English colonial official in a tropical country with a harsh, unforgiving climate. Each of John Flory of Burmese Days and Henry Scobie of The Heart of the Matter stands out from his contemporaries because of his inherent goodness, his sense of belonging in the colonial outpost and his lack of condescension towards the natives. Where the two novels differ is the fact that The Heart of the Matter is essentially a book about Catholicism.

Scobie is a the Deputy Commissioner of police in a nameless, underdeveloped country in West Africa during World War II. For fifteen years he remains scrupulously honest and incorruptible despite ample opportunity for self-enrichment in the murky commercial environment of the colony. Business is conducted by thoroughly dishonest Syrians who love nothing better than a bent policeman in their pay. Notwithstanding many entreaties from Yusef, a fat, unscrupulous Syrian merchant, Scobie keeps himself clean.

He feels trapped in a loveless marriage to Louise, a pathetic, unattractive, tearful woman, who causes him nothing but anguish. His stern Catholicism does not permit him to contemplate divorce from her and he suffers feelings of guilt about being in some way responsible for her piteous state. Louise's continual weeping and moaning about her unhappiness and the bitter feelings of pity this evokes in Scobie leads him down the path towards self destruction. To ease her suffering - and his own - Scobie compromises his high principals and takes a loan from Yusef to send Louise to South Africa.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alfred J. Kwak on 10 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
It is widely considered Greene's best. Some 65 years since publication, new readers confronted with so much Catholic fear and agony may, give up on it. But it is also a surprisingly easy to read account of a failed marriage after the death of a child, in a 24/7 stifling, socially-suffocating environment in West Africa.
Its venue is Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL) during WW II. Mostly hot and humid, with the occasional big rat in the bathroom, hungry ant colonies in the kitchen, malarial mosquitoes attacking after sundown. Class-based differences among British colonial staff cause a poisonous climate rife with gossip. German submarines endanger shipping routes. Syrian traders are suspected of diamond smuggling and dealing with the enemy. At nightfall the harbour is closed and a total black-out is enforced.
This book's sad hero Henry Scobie, SL's Deputy Police Commissioner, has spent 15 years in SL. And been married for 14 years with Louise. They are a devoutly Catholic couple. Early on the reader learns that Scobie has been passed over for promotion. Why? Plenty of gossip and rumour, but Louise could be the main reason: Scobie loves his job and feels himself at home in SL, but Louise is seen as a snob. Unlike other wives, she has no war-time job. She thinks she is hated by everyone who matters, resents her husband's poor salary and contentment with his job, his failure to progress to the top and the poor living quarters assigned to them since their last leave.
In what follows, corruption is one of the many themes Greene probes. This review is an introduction to the first 50 pages of one of the greatest books written in the 20th century. Follow Wilson, who is a spy sent from London and Scobie's run of disastrous moral choices. The pair may symbolize Graham Greene's own struggle with his own espionage job and Catholicism. Highly recommended.
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