Why Graham Greene?

On the increasingly rare occasion that someone asks me who my favorite writer is, I usually, quickly and with little hesitation, say Graham Greene. The End of the Affair, I tell them even if they haven’t asked, is my favorite of his novels.

Now, there are any number of other novels that I might cite if I were asked to name a favorite, near-perfect work of fiction: A Passage to India or Howard’s End, to be sure, or The Great Gatsby and A Portrait of a Lady, certainly. As for novels that have entertained me, haunted me, jolted me, stayed with me, the list is unbridled: Memento Mori, Run River, The White Hotel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Huckleberry Finn, The American …

But, The End of the Affair dazzled me the first time I read it, some thirty years ago, and it has not disappointed with repeat readings over the years. Not my first venture into Greeneland—that would have been The Human Factor, which I read as a teenager when it was newly published—it remains the Greene book that resonates most for me, with its uncompromising exploration of faith and love, wrapped in a taut story that displays Greene’s awe-inspiring ability to craft a plot-driven narrative that is about so much more than plot. It is a book that kindles my devotion and envy—quite simply, I wish I could have written it, or could write anything approaching its perfection. I suppose that is why I claim it as my “favorite.”

The last year and a half in my life has been a bit directionless and marked with some sadness. My only daughter left for college two thousand miles away and my father died after a painful-to-witness decline from Parkinson’s Disease. Though kept busy enough with quotidian concerns, there have long stretches where I have felt directionless, unfocused, certainly intellectually disengaged. So…casting about for a self-edifying project to begin the new year, I started to think about reading The End of the Affair once again. Then I started thinking bigger, realizing that there is still so much of Greene’s work I have not read. Why not read or reread all the novels, I thought, and really get to know the man and his work?

By my count, Greene wrote 26 novels. Hence, the title of this blog: 26 Grahams. But I hope to read widely and liberally—not just all the novels, but the stories and plays, essays and travel writing, and memoirs, as well. Perhaps, too, I’ll dip into some of the biographies written about Greene, and maybe even some critical works. A lot of reading, to be sure, and I am guessing my little new year’s project could stretch on indefinitely beyond this year.

Let’s see where this literary immersion, this—to borrow Greene’s own phrase—journey without maps leads. I hope this adventure in reading will bolster my already great appreciation for a great writer, but I hope, too, it will open some windows into my understanding not only of his work but of why it speaks to me with such special force.

So, I begin. But not at the beginning…