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Greek Memories Paperback – 21 Nov 2011
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There is scarcely a page of Greek Memories that does not damage the foundation of secrecy upon which the Secret Service is built up. --Secret Intelligence Service Memo
About the Author
Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) wrote over ninety books, including Sinister Street, Carnival, Vestal Fire, Extraordinary Women and Whisky Galore During the First World War he became Director of the Aegean Intelligence Service under the British Special Intelligence Service (later MI6).
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1. You have an interest in Greece during the First World War and want to see what a British participant makes of the struggle between the Royalists and the Venizelists in 1916. I am not qualified to know how accurate MacKenzie's account is. He certainly portrays himself as the man with his finger on the pulse who knows everything. He makes it seem plausible but it is history through his prism which I suspect is pretty distorted.
2. You are a fan of Compton Mackenzie and want to read everything he ever published. Despite some good turns of phrase this is is a pretty dry read which will test the loyalty of even his most devoted fan
3. You are intrigued as to why the Security Service got the book banned when it was first published in 1932. What may have been controversial then is mundane in the extreme to-day. There is really hardly anything worth reading as regards this aspect, unless you have an academic interest in how security/intelligence work was handled in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1916.
I was conned by the publisher's blurb which describes it as an espionage classic. That it most certainly is not. Give it a miss.
Courtesy of Biteback, you can now read the full, unexpurgated version penned by the author of Whisky Galore and sometime British secret agent and you can therefore see how what worried the government was not racy tales of foreign adventures but lengthy lists of spies, their assistants and their working methods.
The simple test of whether or not you should read it is whether or not you want to read in full a 12 point "Memorandum on proposals for control of passenger traffic from and to Greece". In other words, for the specialist, this is a book is crammed full of useful detail. What tales of drama there are (such as the bizarre story of an agent who forgot his alias and had to hide in a toilet for two days) are smothered in long bureaucratic accounts and extensive arguments over detailed points of narrative which are never clearly explained to the uninitiated reader.
Aside from the occasional toilet-style incidents, and frequent complaints about the temperature, the book is livened up by Mackenzie's frequent swipes at others who have retold the same events. They are variously described as "pathetic", "credulous", "eager apologists", "harlequin", "stupid" and more. In an effort to demonstrate that he alone can be trusted to give the authoritative account (which just happens to be flattering to himself), he buries the reader in a collection of documents and details.
The publishers have done little to help guide the reader through this detail. There are, for example, no explanatory footnotes for the first time a new significant name or organisation is introduced in the text.
There is, however, in an appendix the details of the concerns the government had over names and procedures that the unexpurgated text gave away. Reading through them, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that removing much of this was really doing the book a favour by removing much of the excess detail. Perhaps too the government did him a favour by helping inspire Mackenzie to turn to fiction the following year to settle more scores in the form of the excellent satire Water on the Brain.
This is a book for the specialist, not for the casual reader.