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The Heart Of The Matter Paperback – 7 Oct 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (7 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099478420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099478423
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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)

Review

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

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

'In a class by himself – the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man's consciousness and anxiety.' (The Independent)

'A superb storyteller with a gift for provoking controversy.' (The New York Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Published in 1948, 'The Heart of the Matter' was Graham Greene's first post-war novel, following his wartime service with MI6 under the supervision of one Kim Philby. The novel is set in a West African country during World War 2 and drew on the author's experience as an intelligence officer based in Sierra Leone during the war.

The country is an unnamed British protectorate bordering a French colony where the Vichy regime poses a constant threat of sabotage to the British war effort. The central character is Major Henry Scobie, the longtime police Deputy Commissioner charged with keeping the peace. He conducts futile searches of ships entering the seaport, as the British look for diamonds smuggled from South Africa, and private letters destined for enemy cities. His wife Louise, a devout Catholic, is with him although she hates the place. Or is it her fellow countrymen, who scorn her, or the fact that they have overlooked her husband for the new Commissioner's post, that she really hates?

It is a marriage devoid of love, kept going by Scobie's need to do the decent thing, to stand by his wife through a sense of loyalty and responsibility for her even though much, if not all, of the feeling has gone. His impossible aim was to bring her happiness in life, and his failure to do so has destroyed his hopes of peace in a country he has come to love. And so in his timid, evasive way he keeps procrastinating, making false promises to his wife to delay any resolution to their crisis.

The colonial world they inhabit is characterised by the "malice and snobbery" of the small-minded British officials governing the local people. These are the remnants of an Empire in decline, hanging on to its parochial values in the face of seismic changes in the world order.
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