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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting...
"There was something about a fete which drew Arthur Rowe irresistibly....."
It's now over ten years since I first read this book, but something about it haunts my memory, making me read and re-read it over and over again. Perhaps it is the dream like quality of Greene's prose, or the way he brings blitz torn London to life, or perhaps simply his portrayal of his...
Published on 7 Jun 2004 by David Cook

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brooding...Never will a Village Cake Sale be the Same Again
Another Greene corker, though I felt it lost something at the end: it became a bit mechanical and 'neat.' However, the first three quarters of it is great on the brooding sense of menace, the Kafka-esque disorientation.
Published on 11 Sep 2008 by Frootle


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3.0 out of 5 stars Incoherent but interesting, 18 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I felt this fell a little between two stools. It seems unsure whether it wants to be a literary novel about the nature of identity and how guilt and the past make happiness in the present impossible, or a fun spy romp. As such, it's very uneven.

Ministry of Fear starts in John Buchan territory, with the hero blundering into an enemy spy plot and being forced on the run, pursued by the conspirators and the police, and so far so good, with his character deepening as we discover the hero is depressed due to having assisted his wife's euthanasia.

Then a plot device intervenes, the hero loses his memory and a different novel takes over, where he is in a hospital that he starts to suspect is not exactly taking good care of him, or its other patients. The characterisation is very well defined as we see how the loss of memory takes the weight off his mind and allows his happy nature to reappear.

Towards the end, the hero's memory starts to return and with it the spy plot is wrapped up and there's a downbeat ending to the psychological plot.

The main problem is that spy plot makes almost no sense at all, relying on coincidences, handwaving and implausibilities and being resolved in a slightly ridiculous manner. The psychological plot is more interesting and there is the core of a good novel there, but the two plots just don't quite pull together into a coherent whole. The trouble is the tone of the psychological plot does not sit well with the much lighter spy plot.

Structurally, it's a mess, but good atmosphere and characters make it an interesting mess. It's worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and Paranoic, 11 Nov 2013
Born in London in 1944, I spent happy days playing in bomb sites and concrete shelters. For the central character of Greene's novel, an amnesiac, they were equally mysterious but far more sinister - not for the obvious evidence of the destruction of homes and civilian lives - but because under the rubble lay his lost past and proof of an evil conspiracy.
While Kafka doubtless influenced the themes of powerlessness against the recondite aims of controlling bureaucrats, Greene's eye for the trivial and squalid that mark the baffled hopes of us all in this world, is characteristically his own.
The novel is not for those who like to see the Blitz as a setting for romance and heroism - a sort of faux nostalgia - but is recommended for readers who enjoy serious literature. Richard Frost
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death, 23 Feb 2011
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die." Samuel Butler

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that it has taken me close to three score years to pick up and read a book by Graham Greene. On the other hand, I now have quite a few books I can now add to my to be read pile.

I purchased this book after reading Alan Furst's Introduction. I very much like Furst's work (See The Foreign Correspondent) and, after reading that Furst was influenced by Eric Ambler I worked my way thought Ambler's works with a great deal of pleasure (See Judgment on Deltchev). In the Introduction to Ministry of Fear, Furst mentions that Greene was another key influence. So I was sold, and, more importantly, I was not disappointed.

As in Ambler and Furst's books The Ministry of Fear gives us an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary situation. Arthur Rowe is an ordinary man, albeit one with a troubled past. He is described by Greene as a tall stooping lean man with a narrow face and whose clothes were good "but gave the impression of being uncared for; you would have said a bachelor if it had not been for an indefinable married look." Set in the early days of WWII, the blitz has just begun and Rowe finds himself in a charity fete. Rowe finds himself paying a few pence to have his fortune told and through a strange quirk of fate utters a phrase that puts him right in the middle of an espionage ring.

The story takes off from there. The cast of characters introduced by Greene should be familiar to anyone who has read Ambler, Buchan, or Furst: the stolid police detectives, the sinister and inscrutable foreign spies and assorted hangers on; and the lovely lady who may be friend or foe. But what Green does here that I find so intriguing is to turn a rather generic story line into a brilliant examination of something entirely different: how memory and forgetfulness either free us or enslave us.

The heart of the book for me was not the story line itself. [Note: possible spoiler follows.] About half way through the book we find that Arthur Rowe had been hurt during the blitz and was suffering from amnesia. As the story continues we see not only the plot develop but witness the transformation of Arthur Rowe. As noted earlier, he had been haunted by an earlier tragedy and, to my mind; this tragedy had totally enslaved Rowe. He was a prisoner of his own guilt and his thoughts and actions were constricted by that guilt. Now that the balance between memory and forgetfulness had shifted so to had Rowe's thoughts and actions. Given a new name he truly became a new person and as his memory starts to return Greene presents us with Rowe force to make a conscious decision as to whether his memory will continue to enslave him. Rowe's decision and the actions that follow take us through the book's satisfying conclusion.

"I have done that", says my memory. "I cannot have done that" -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields." So said Friedrich Nietzsche and Graham Greene has taken that theme and run with it with great skill and with great delight to the reader.

Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ministry of Fear is Within as well as Without.............".If one loved one feared ", 18 April 2014
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This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Even a Greene novel written before he flowered into his middle and later period of novels about more metaphysical and existential concerns, and described by him as one of his `For Entertainment' novels, is a master-class in how to combine a page turning thriller with stunning psychological nuance, interesting character, believable and immediate time and location setting, and the darker waters of `what it means to be human'. (which is always what I am most aware of with Greene)

The Ministry Of Fear, published in 1943, could be regarded on one level as a propaganda novel - beware, look out for `The Enemy Within' and, like the equally page-turning, jolly-good-read A Gun For Hire, is a dazzling example of how to do pot-boiling with something much more substantial, and much less just formulaic, a-bubble in that pot.

This was a very pleasurable re-read for me; Greene is a writer I do return to, and can always find new, and more, to engage with, whilst sinking into the comfort of knowing the narrative journey, subsequent reads give more time to enjoy the view.

In brief, Arthur Rowe, a man with a fatal flaw - pity, an inability to bear either his own, or another's suffering - and how this is a flaw for him (and others) will be revealed - visits, by chance a fete in war-torn London. Immediately we are in Greene-land - the complicated, thoughtful, damaged and introspective hero, walks back into the golden memory of childhood safety, the sweet remembered goodness of a golden age - and discovers this is only patina, there is no safe space. Chance, the perfidy of fate, has brought him an encounter which was never meant to be his. He wins a cake in the raffle which is somehow linked with espionage for Germany. And the whole plot proceeds, from here, tying Rowe further and further like a fly caught in a malevolent spider's web of `only connect' as the sticky threads of connection proceed for ill, rather than for benevolence.

Typical Greene that plunges the reader into perfidy and betrayal, not through espionage in high places, with sophisticated protagonists, but through the most prosaic surface of little, local England, peopled with kind bobbies and paternalistic vicars.

He rips the surface away, and builds, right from the start, the creeping growth of fear, and nothing to be trusted. As a kind of comment on the world he leads us into, are small excerpts as chapter heading, quotes picked from a book by the Victorian writer Charlotte M. Yonge, called The Little Duke, which Rowe picks up second hand at the fete, as part of that romantic golden glow misremembered simple world of childhood. Yonge wrote `homilies' for the young, about high ideals, simply expressed. Greene's characters yearn to achieve those ideals, but are spotted and stained by the complexity of living in the real world, where morality is not always so clear

"A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man - a man who either takes tea or coffee for breakfast, a man who likes a good book and perhaps reads biography rather than fiction, a man who at a regular hour goes to bed, who tries to develop good physical habits but possibly suffers from constipation, who prefers either dogs or cats, and has certain views about politics.

It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous"

This is what Greene does so superbly - makes the extraordinary ordinary, and the ordinary extraordinary.

"Happiness should always be qualified by a knowledge of misery...........Knowledge was the great thing.....not abstract knowledge, the theories which lead one enticingly on with their appearance of nobility, of transcendent virtue, but detailed passionate trivial human knowledge.......One can't love humanity. One can only love people"

This book positively sings with all manner of......'now I really need to reflect on this'....all delectably wrapped up in a page-turning espionage plot which positively suggests a Hitchcock noir film.

In reality, The Ministry Of Fear was turned into a film by Fritz Lang. I have not seen the film but the fact that by all accounts it had a jollier, Hollywood wrap ending completely misses the point of Greene's book, where even the obvious wrap which we might see coming from fairly early on, is nuanced by the sour sadness of accommodation and compromise. High ideals are rarely achieved with full untarnished glitter, there is always, `in real' a spot of wear and tear, a small stain which is pervasive.

A marvellous book, highly entertaining, absolutely disciplined, and solidly `about stuff'
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ministry of Fear, 20 May 2013
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This wartime moral thriller set in London has pace, character and excitement. Greene manages the conjuror's art well and includes elegant spare description that engages the reader totally.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 2 Mar 2013
By 
Donald Hughes (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I have read several Graham Greene's in the last few months and this is one of the best. It is a tongue-in-cheek wartime thriller and demonstrates how versatile the author was. He describes it as an entertainment, and he certainly succeeds!
It is, as always, beautifully written and it captures the atmosphere of the Blitz accurately- I lived through it as a youngster.
It holds your attention to the very end.
A must-read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Greene Entertainment, 23 Oct 2012
This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Graham Greene originally divided his works into novels and 'entertainments', separating his popular work from those he wished his literary career to be remembered for. In later life, this distinction would be blurred until it was dropped entirely. The Ministry of Fear is one of these earlier works labelled an entertainment. Made a year later into a film directed by Fritz Lang, it was written in the middle of wartime, and on the surface is a typical espionage thriller in the tradition of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, dealing with a Nazi spy ring operating in London during the blitz. On its own, the plot is gripping enough to carry the book through to the end, and those bits we can regard as 'entertainment' made their way into the film.

But as with many of Greene's works, it's the inner conflict which is missing from the silver screen translation. We learn early on that the main protagonist is racked by guilt over the murder--what we would today most likely see only as a mercy killing--of his wife. This concentration on the individual, amid the scaled chaos of the blitz, makes this short novel so interesting. Much of it seems quite dated now, but there is still plenty of relevance in a society trying to come to terms with the issue of euthanasia.

Aside from the juxtaposition of a thrilling little spy plot and the psychological reflections, this short book is also an advert for Greene's art. The writing is simply superb, an absolute pleasure to read, full of inventiveness without the overt self-conceit of trying too hard. Another reviewer pointed out that this short novel took longer to read than he had imagined. I'd suggest that comes as a result of needing to read every word and understand it, not skim over lines of trite, repetitive text as in many other novels. To skim would be to rob oneself of most of the pleasure.

For me, Graham Greene remains the greatest English language novelist never to have won the Nobel Prize. As an entertainment, rather than a novel, The Ministry of Fear lends itself as an excellent introduction to his greater literature.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent story, 3 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This book is an excellent read. The long suffering character of Arthur Rowe demonstrates the mental effect that the war had over people, this effect is also reflected within the ever-changing destruction of the City of London. Arthur's deterioration and rehabilitation is mirrored in the city buildings. This story gives a powerful insight into paranoia and loneliness felt by many who were outsiders of the war community.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Relatively Light and Cheerful Among His Works; Good Place to Start, 17 Jun 2011
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
"The Ministry of Fear," (1943) is a British spy story/crime drama/thriller by much honored twentieth century British author/screen writer Graham Greene (The Third Man., The End Of The Affair (Vintage Classics)). The book is set in England, a country violently at war during World War II.

Arthur Rowe is released back into wartime England after serving two years in a mental asylum for the mercy killing of his terminally ill wife. Despite the attention given him by psychiatric professionals, he is still rather immature and self-centered. Somehow, at a local garden fete, he stumbles across a murderous Nazi spy ring, by correctly guessing the weight of a cake - made with real eggs, we are repeatedly told. As Rowe appears to be substantially friendless, he doesn't know where to turn; but stakes his survival on that well-known British ability to muddle through. First he consults Mr. Rennet at "Orthotex: Long Established Private Inquiry Bureau" that generally does divorce work. Then, in his shambling way, Rowe finds himself at the offices of Comforts of the Free Mothers, where he meets a brother/sister pair of Austrian refugees, Anna and Willie Hilfe. And at Mrs. Bellairs' fortune telling séance, where he meets a Dr. Forester, and a man going by the names of Cost/ Travers or Ford; and foul deeds are afoot. Mr. Rennet, of Orthotex, the employee Rennet assigns to Rowe's case, Mr. Jones, and most everyone else Rowe meets, as he tries to sort things out, will most likely regret having met Rowe.

The book, as many of Greene's other works, was made into a film of the same title Ministry of Fear [DVD], starring Ray Milland, directed by the great cinematic thriller-maker, the Austrian-born Fritz Lang (Metropolis [Reconstructed & Restored] (Masters of Cinema) [DVD). The film may now be better known than the novel it's based on: at any rate the talented Lang made some canny changes, such as setting the introductory garden fair in the still-charming countryside, rather than the war torn Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London, rather close to the British Museum, as Greene did. Still, it must be said, Greene gives us a first-rate view of London under bombardment, its shelters and smoking ruins. (Lang made his film, supposedly set in the U.K., in Hollywood, to escape the dangers and privations of the city at that time.)

Graham Greene (1904-1991) was one of the most illustrious British writers of the 20th century. He enjoyed a very long life, most of the century, and a very long, prolific writing career, during which he gave us The Power and the Glory (Vintage Classics), and Our Man In Havana: An Introduction by Christopher Hitchens (Vintage Classics). These two books, among Greene's many other masterworks, were made into notable films. Greene's books were very well-written, highly literate; greatly honored; much praised by the critics, and enjoyed a wide readership, being frequent best sellers. The author had first-hand spy experience; he was recruited to Britain's secret service, and worked in the African country of Sierra Leone during the Second World War. The writer was also one of the better-known Catholic converts of his time; many of his thrillers, as this one, deal with Catholic themes of guilt and redemption. He created vivid characters with internal lives; they faced struggles and doubt. Sometimes his characters despaired, or suffered world-weary cynicism - they were always self-aware. But Greene always created a tight thriller, in a lean, realistic style that boasted almost cinematic visuals. If you've never read him before, the book at hand is relatively light and cheerful compared to some of his others: it's a good place to start.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine entertainment, 10 Sep 2010
By 
Jaime Garcia Gonzalez (Jerez, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Greene called this, an entertaintment, not a novel, just like The Confidential Agent. Fine as an entertainment, but more than that, a story dealing with the burden of past, the ability to change our lives, the grace we all expect. Nothing away from the line etched by The heart of the matter, The power and the glory, etc. Best english novelist of the XXth century for me.
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The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics)
The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics) by Graham Greene (Paperback - 5 July 2001)
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