Customer Reviews


51 Reviews
5 star:
 (27)
4 star:
 (15)
3 star:
 (7)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of a claim to gratness
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...
Published on 20 Oct. 2008 by Philip Spires

versus
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How on Earth did I get through this? (Part 4)
Here's another one I put aside at first but then decided, as part of a New Year's resolution, to return to and finish. When it didn't grab me from the start, as Graham Greene's novels normally do, it was partly because this particular Penguin edition has just about the smallest print it is humanly possible to put to paper and still read.

While beautifully...
Published on 9 Nov. 2010 by Philip S. Walker


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of a claim to gratness, 20 Oct. 2008
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. He makes decisions fully aware of their consequences, but remains apparently unable to influence the circumstance that repeatedly seems to dictate events. He remains utterly honest in his deceit, consistent in his unpredictability. His life becomes a beautiful, uncontrolled mess. His wife's simple orthodox Catholicism contrasts with his never really adopted faith. He tries to keep face, but cannot reconcile the facts of his life with the demands of his conscience. His ideals seem to have no place in a world where interests overrule principle. He sees a solution, a way out, but perhaps it is a dead end.

For twenty-first century sensibilities, the colonial era attitudes towards local people appear patronising at best. Perhaps that is how things were. But The Heart Of The Matter is not really a descriptive work. It is not about place and time. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the events and their setting provide only a backdrop and context for a deeply moving examination of motive and conscience. And also like a Shakespearean tragedy, the novel transcends any limitations of its setting to say something unquestionably universal about the human condition. Forty years on, I now realise, that my new English teacher was probably right.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book you will want to read again and again, 4 Aug. 2011
By 
Gitau Githinji (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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.

In Louise's absence, Scobie falls in love with yet another pathetic woman called Helen Rolt - Scobie seems incapable of falling in love with a woman unless he pities her - and by so doing seals his fate.

Scobie is a complex character imbued with contradictions. He does not like to cause suffering but yet is a senior police office officer in a West African colony; he yearns solitude and peace but yet can't bring himself to untangle the mess his life is in between two damaged, needy women; he is a strict Catholic who believes in eternal damnation but yet commits mortal sin and cannot seek absolution by making confession; he pities a man who has committed suicide and then by his own hand places himself beyond the reach of God's mercy.

The Heart of the Matter explores the extent to which pity and love can come into conflict with the strictures of the Catholic Church. Scobie is a good Catholic who is bitterly tormented by the enormity of his sins. He feels he has failed the women he loves, himself and even God. In the end he comes to accept that God is powerless to protect him from eternal damnation and offers himself up as a sacrifice for Louise, Helen and God himself.

Like he does in The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair, Graham Greene forces one to rethink Catholicism. Is God's mercy powerless in the face of the rules of the Church? Can God protect and forgive the persecuted and weak, however sinful they may be? If suicide, for instance, is so damnable, what about God's own suicide on the Cross?

Greene offers no answers to these questions. Instead he has given us a book to delight in and think about over and over again.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant tale of a man's chosen path to damnation, 10 Oct. 2011
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How on Earth did I get through this? (Part 4), 9 Nov. 2010
Here's another one I put aside at first but then decided, as part of a New Year's resolution, to return to and finish. When it didn't grab me from the start, as Graham Greene's novels normally do, it was partly because this particular Penguin edition has just about the smallest print it is humanly possible to put to paper and still read.

While beautifully written, of course, it is not Graham Greene's most impressive and convincing novel. The main character, Scobie, is a police inspector in some fictional West African British colony at the outbreak of WWII. This very much reflects Greene's own experiences at the same time. Still, I find it hard to believe in this social environment where no one seems to care or worry even remotely about the situation in Europe. The exact time frame isn't quite clear, but we do move from 'The Phony War' (after the German invasion of Poland) into talk about the Vichy Government (apparently the neighbouring colony is French), meaning that we are well into Battle of Britain times. You would think these people were at least occasionally debating things at home, worrying about relatives, not to mention the fact that at this point it looked very much as though the Germans would win the War. Even from a one hundred percent egotistical point of view this would have changed everything for them. Yet Scobie and his fellow Brits live in their own little world of intrigue, jealousy, matrimonial quibble and career struggle (it's as though they already know it will all end with an Allied victory, as indeed Greene knew at the time he wrote the book). On top of that Scobie, a middle aged married man, falls in love with a nineteen year old girl, still emotionally shaken from the loss of her husband. He doesn't refrain from having sex with her on their first ever one-to-one meeting, and subsequently on numerous occasions. We assume he must enjoy it since he continues the relationship, but in between he gets submerged in guilt and worries about how he will be spending his afterlife according to his faith.

Mentally, Scobie is under attack on several fronts. He is deeply in love where he shouldn't be, he is marred by his extremely active conscience and by his religion. Here we find another of the novel's weaker point. How a man of this kind can bear being a police inspector is a bit of a mystery, as this part of his life is severely underrepresented in the novel. Criminal justice can't avoid at times being rough and unfair, particularly in an environment like this. Furthermore, at no point does Scobie doubt the British government's right to rule rigidly over other people thousands of miles from the home land. I suppose you could say all that is irrelevant since this is a psychological novel, not a political story. Still, there must be a limit to how much you can isolate the two. Certainly in later novels, such as 'The Quiet American', Greene manages masterly to combine them.

What this novel has, however, is a lot of insight into the Catholic mind. To an outsider it looks inconsequential and hypocritical, as represented by Scobie's young mistress, Helen, a daughter of a Church of England minister. Her lack of understanding adds to Scobie's desperation, to a point where you get the feeling that behind all his correctness and goodness there is also an element of self-righteousness. For him to exist he needs to do everything morally and formally right, and as soon as the small breech is opened the whole construction on which he has built his life crumbles, mentally and physically.

Then there is perhaps the real theme of the novel; the theme, perhaps, that has appealed to aging university tutors over the years; the theme which Anthony Burgess in his short Ernest Hemingway biography describes as 'the middle-aged man's desire to be born again', i.e. to take a young mistress. Hemingway, in his novel 'Across the River and into the Trees', utilised this theme as a platform for a storyline around the same time as Graham Greene. It's not an easy theme at all. Old men with young female lovers are generally ridiculed: he's having a midlife crises, she's looking for a father figure or perhaps even for his money. However, this is a serious trap for aging men to fall into, and Greene is not at all wrong in suggesting that the outcome can be suicide. There is a feeling that on some partly unconscious level he wrote this novel to warn himself of a dangerous situation, yet when later on he used the theme repeatedly there seemed to be no moral second-thoughts involved. Make of that what you want. (Incidentally, Burgess suggests the aging male artist approach the problem as Hemingway seemingly did: by making her his muse and keep sex out of the relationship.)

In conclusion, I would say that unless you are particularly interested in the issues of Catholic guilt, some of the secondary themes in this novel are probably better dealt with in other Graham Greene novels such as 'The Quiet American' or 'The Human Factor'. Still, even non-perfect Greene is better than no Greene at all and despite its shortcomings this is a wonderfully written story delivered in straight-forward, lucid, unpretentious sentences as one would expect from one of the very best authors of this era.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting exploration of the birth of corruption, 11 April 2001
By 
mzyszs@nottingham.ac.uk (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics) (Paperback)
The brittle and sparse nature of Greene's writing does surprisingly well at conjuring up the heat, repression and the inner workings of law enforcement in Africa. It draws the reader into the mind of the perfectly moralistic and "right" police officer Scobie, so strongly that the reader encounters their own moral tug of war, with the boundaries between right and wrong becoming clouded with circumstance and passion. The writing, subtly and cynically, leads the reader to an intensity of indecision and frustration at the ensuing events and emotional ruin desribed. It is a gripping story, which thrives on its interwoven sub-polts and humane descriptions.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking but irritating novel., 2 April 2014
I am half way through reading Graham Greene's complete works. As that would suggest I am a great admirer of his talents as a novelist and artist, yet this is my least favourite of his books read so far. And although there are many of his works still to read, I doubt another one will irritate me as much as this. I admire it too, don't get me wrong, it is extremely disquieting in fact. But my overriding impression is one of huge annoyance, anger even. Why?
I am a lapsed Catholic, and so this brings to vivid focus everything I hate and reject about the Catholic Church. The absurdity and implacability of the dogma. Whilst at the same time reminding me of what I have lost, and maybe still yearn for at a sub conscious level, although definitely not intellectually. A complicated brew! But that is just me. What of you? If you are an atheist I don't think this novel will make any sense to you at all. If a devout Catholic it will speak to you in a way that few other works of fiction can. At a profound, visceral level like it did me. So it is certainly a remarkable book in its ability to inspire deep thought and high emotion in some readers (but definitely not all).
I won't provide any spoilers and I do recommend people to read the book. If you are an atheist the only way you will make any sense of it all is to assume the hero goes mad in the end. It is the only way you will be able to suspend your disbelief at the absurdity of the plot, and the lack of believability of the hero's actions. (Which even Greene himself fessed up to in later life). If a believer you'll love it all probably so enjoy! Apart from Scobie, who is uniquely egotistical and hypocritical and impossible to warm to, you won't find an interesting character in the novel. Bar Yusuf. He is brilliantly drawn, one of Greene's very best, in fact. Fantastically slimy he drips off the page.
Enough, I am done with the book, and will never read it again. Uggh! But don't listen to me, read it for yourself and make up your own mind.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Would one have to feel pity even for the planets?..., 4 April 2012
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
...if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?"

This novel's setting, at least geographically, a remote colonial backwater in British West Africa, is far removed from what most would consider "the heart of the matter." Yet Graham Greene uses the locale as the setting to explore despair, even the "ultimate despair" for which the Catholic Church grants no forgiveness, as well as failure, in the human heart. My copy of this work, whose cover I posted, a brilliant black and white photograph of a tropical deluge in what appears to be a small village, helps convey the conditions that could result in that ultimate despair.

Greene is one of the best known and prolific English 20th century authors. The settings for many of his works were impoverished developing countries, as the current euphemism has it. At least some really did develop, like Vietnam The Quiet American: Centenary Celebration 2004 and Mexico The Power and the Glory (Vintage Classics). Several are still stagnant, Haiti The Comedians, Cuba Our Man in Havana (Vintage Classics) and this one, on West Africa, based on Greene's stay in Sierra Leone.

Henry Scobie is the main character, a ranking policeman, among a small British community, during World War II. His wife, Louise, is a devout Catholic (Henry is a convert, and does practice). She is unhappy, and he seeks to send her to a less harsh setting is South Africa. Naturally there is a staple of expat life: philandering, real and potential, in a very tight and incestuous community, as it were. And finances haunt. Bon mots? "It's a wonderful excuse being Catholic' she said. `It doesn't stop you from sleeping with me - it just stops you from marrying me." For a practicing Catholic himself, Greene could take a cynical view of his religion.

Closer to the heart of the matter of the human condition: "When he was young, he had thought love had something to do with understanding, but with age he knew that no human being understood another. Love was the wish to understand, and presently with constant failure the wish died, and love died too perhaps or changed into this painful affection, loyalty, pity...She sat there, reading poetry, and she was a thousand miles away from the torment that shook his hand and dried his mouth."

Uplifting? Hardly, the novel is a depressing read, and can only "uplift" one by comparing the grime circumstances of Scobie, as well as the rest of the community, with your present circumstances. As Greene says: "Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either an extreme egotism, evil - or else an absolute ignorance."

My favorite Greene novel remains the ever so prescient The Quiet American: Centenary Celebration 2004. Being an "ex-", I found the Catholic themes of guilt, confession, et al., more than a bit tedious, and the submission of one's will and desire to the "man of the cloth," frankly, a bit ludicrous for not having been finally resolved. Nonetheless, it is Greene; he does write well, and he posits realistic characters in life-changing situations. 5-stars.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as it gets!, 16 Nov. 2012
This is my favourite Greene novel. Everything is described so realistically: the heat; the dead-end marriage of Scobie and Louise; her devout Catholicism matching his anaemic attitude to religion; how even the most honest man can be corrupted by circumstances and how he jumps from one hopeless woman (his wife) to another (Helen his mistress). I was particularly intrigued by Yusef's attempts to be a true friend.

Louise, being warned of his affair, returns from S.Africa and Scobie has to face up to his responsibilities. After agonising over his sinful past, and possible loss of eternal salvation, engineers an entirely convincing solution.

A remarkable book
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, morality and Catholicism in Africa, 7 Feb. 2003
This review is from: The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics) (Paperback)
It is the details of THOTM that stand out long after the novel has been finished- the search for war-time diamonds by sifting tons of flour on cargo ships, the sacred stamp collecting book grasped by Helen, one of the survivors of an escapee transport. Greene weaves these insights into a story of moral right and wrong, different types of love and the powers that be (whether army, police or God).
The main character, Scobie's, final loss is offset by his wife's buffoon of an admirer, Wilson, and Greene proves himself adept at both comedy and tragedy. But the main "feel" of the book is Scobie's battle between his own true feelings of love and natural morality versus the hierarchy of his police job, the events of war and his Catholic belief. Scobie's Catholicism could be exchanged for almost any religious belief and still have the same effect but the Catholic idea that all life is sacrosanct adds pathos to the climax of THOTM.
Greene grabs the reader's attention early on by ridiculing Wilson but gradually Scobie becomes a more sympathetic character and our interest in the book lies with him and Helen. Greene, however, was never happy with this novel saying- "The scales to me seem too heavily weighted, the plot overloaded, the religious scruples of Scobie too extreme" (Ways Of Escape). Nevertheless, THOTM remains one of Greene's most popular works along with The Third Man and The End Of The Affair and continues to haunt and amuse those who read it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Impossible aims, conflicting goods unreconciled: quintessential Greene, 23 Sept. 2010
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
It's hard to imagine Graham Greene would be cheery company, even on one of his more upbeat days. But an unsurpassed ability to turn over the stone of the human condition and poke around underneath is what makes novels like this one such a compelling read. In it, he examines the motivations of Scobie, an upright police officer in a fictitious British West African colony during World War II. At heart, all Scobie really wants - perhaps like us all - is an inner peace, a peace he `dreamed of day and night' (60). But as a `man of goodwill', he is trapped both by his desire to do the right thing and his determination to accept responsibility for his actions. A loan taken out under pressure, and an indiscreet affair while his wife (a rather pathetic figure) is away on an extended holiday, lead to blackmail, despair - for the Catholic Scobie the ultimate sin - and so (in his view) to damnation.

Impossible aims, conflicting goods unreconciled: these are themes Greene deals with so well, so unflinchingly in the novels of his middle period, such as this one. I'm not quite convinced that Scobie is on the same level as Querry in `A Burnt-out Case' or the nameless priest in `The Power and the Glory': he's pretty charmless, and overly self-absorbed, so not a character for whom, I think, Greene succeeds in creating a great deal of sympathy. (It's also hard to agree with the verdict of Catholic priest Father Rank at the end of the book that Scobie was a man who really loved God). But as an unsparing, if misogynistic, study of a man on life's `rack', self-propelled to his doom, it reaches heights (and depths) of reflection on the human condition that make it a fine, memorable read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics)
The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics) by Graham Greene (Paperback - 4 Jan. 2001)
Used & New from: £0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews