Sunday, December 12, 2010

Burnt-out

Has anyone ever seen a man smile at a woman as a woman smiles at the man she loves, fortuitously, at a bus-stop, in a railway carriage, at some chain-store in the middle of buying groceries, a smile so naturally joyful, without premeditation and without caution? The converse, of course, is probably true also. A man can never smile quite so falsely as the girl in a brothel parlour. But the girl in the brothel, Querry thought, is imitating something true. The man has nothing to imitate.

Not sure what possessed me to read Graham Greene’s A Burnt-out Case at this time. An examination of one man’s faith — in a leper colony — didn’t strike me as the cheeriest of reads. But perhaps I’m a bit like our hero Querry in this respect, fingering a sore.

Definitely in the mode of the Catholic novels, though not considered a major one, it’s somewhat lacking in subtlety. It’s a little too intensely moral (and in sharp contrast to Simenon’s indifferent amorality, which I’ve been gobbling up these last weeks) for my taste. However, it’s still quite worthwhile — it’s relatively short (also, available as an ebook), events take a very surprising turn toward the end, and Greene demonstrates some wonderful turns of phrase.

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(The Superior)
...suffering is something which will always be provided when it is required.

(Querry)
Sometime he read, sometimes he simply watched the steady khaki flow of the stream, which carried little islands of grass and water jacinth endlessly down at the pace of crawling taxis, out of the heart of Africa, towards the far-off sea.

...and a girl with a baby on her lap smiled and smiled like an open piano.

The Governor was a very small man with a short-sight which gave him an appearance of moral intensity.

(Rycker)
...he had passed from excessive amiability to dissatisfaction, the kind of cosmic dissatisfaction which, after probing faults in others’ characters, went on to the examination of his own.

(Father Thomas)
...fetching up a smile like a liquorice-stick, dark ands sweet and prehensile.

(Querry)
Boredom is worse in comfort.

(Doctor Colin)
“You’re too troubled by your lack of faith, Querry. You keep fingering it like a sore you want to get rid of. I am content with the myth; you are not — you have to believe or disbelieve.”
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