The idea of having a battle with God is an ongoing theme in Graham Greene’s work and appears in The End of the Affair, Power and the Glory and A Burnt Out Case. Although it is a personal process the impact of a religious struggle of the main character does have an impact on everyone who touches that person.
The beauty of Green’s books is that there are so many subtle touches that you almost miss but then remember like Scobie writing in “I love you’ in Helen’s stamp album or the way he was the last person to speak to a child before his death.
The story focuses on Scobie a policeman in an English colony who is struggling to please his wife Louise who is unhappy in the heat and with the disappointment of her husband’s failure to become commissioner. Against that background a man sent out undercover to try and stop the industrial diamond smuggling to Germany, which is at war with rEurope, falls in love with Scobie’s wife and Wilson although never actually trapping Scobie becomes a shadow over his happiness. Scobie borrows money from a Syrian criminal Yusef to pay for his wife’s passage to South Africa and then falls in love with Helen Rolt, a 19 year old widow who is pulled out of a convoy sinking as a result of a submarine attack. As Louise returns, Helen becomes more demanding, the pressure from Yusef forces him into criminal acts Scobie decides to end his life and although as a Catholic that is a mortal sin he opts for that way out.
Is it well written?
It is unusual in that on some levels the story appears to be easy to predict in that you know that Scobie will be tempted and that Wilson will try to catch him. But because not just of a few twists thrown in to make the plot a bit more complex but also because of the writing it keeps you wondering how it will end until the end. Although you know the broad brush strokes there is a real depth here with the battle becoming not just between Scobie and his real adversaries but between the policeman and his god, what he believes in, and that can only come across as a result of internal dialogue that Greene is so capable of delivering.
Should it be read?
It is one of the books that comes down on the list of titles to visit first, and that is probably part of the curse of enjoying a writer who was so prolific. But it deserves to be read not just if you appreciate Greene but if you want to get a European take on the Kafka type pushing and pressuring on a main character that finds that in the end the only way out is through death.
Scobie, a policeman that upholds the law, breaks it and loses the peace he has enjoyed for 15 years and decides to end his life when he realises he will never have peace again
Version read – Penguin paperback