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A highbrow thriller and classic Greene
on 13 January 2008
Here is what the author says about his novel:
"`The Confidential Agent' was written in six weeks in 1938 after my return from Mexico. The Spanish Civil War furnished the background...I was struggling then through `The Power and the Glory', but there was no money in the book as far as I could foresee. Certainly my wife and two children would not be able to live on one unsaleable book...so I determined to write another "entertainment" as quickly as possible in the mornings, while I ground on slowly with `The Power and the Glory' in the afternoons.
The opening scene between two rival agents on the cross-channel steamer--I called them D. and L. because I did not wish to localize their conflict--was all I had in mind, and a certain vague ambition to create something legendary out of a contemporary thriller: the hunted man who becomes in turn the hunter, the peaceful man who turns at bay, the man who has learned to love justice by suffering injustice. But what the legend was to be about in modern terms I had no idea.
I fell back for the first and last time in my life on Benzedrine. For six weeks I started each day with a tablet, and renewed the dose at midday. Each day I sat down to work with no idea of what turn the plot might take and each morning I wrote, with the automatism of a planchette, two thousand words instead of my usual stint of five hundred words. In the afternoons `The Power and the Glory' proceeded towards its end at the same leaden pace, unaffected by the sprightly young thing who was so quickly overtaking it.
`The Confidential Agent' is one of the few books of mine which I have cared to reread--perhaps because it is not really one of mine. It was as though I were ghosting for another man. D., the chivalrous agent and professor of Romance literature, is not really one of my characters, nor is Forbes, born Furtstein, the equally chivalrous lover. The book moved rapidly because I was not struggling with my own technical problems: I was to all intents ghosting a novel by an old writer who was to die a little before the studio in which I had worked was blown out of existence. All I can say as excuse, and in gratitude to an honoured shade, is that `The Confidential Agent' is a better than Ford Madox Ford wrote himself when he attempted the genre in `Vive Le Roy'".
From `Ways of Escape', pp.69-71