Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)

descarga (2)Henry Graham Greene OM CH (2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991), professionally known as Graham Greene, was an English novelist regarded by many as one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century. Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime as a major writer, both of serious Catholic novels, and of thrillers (or “entertainments” as he termed them). Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist, rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair; which have been named “the gold standard” of the Catholic novel. Several works, such as The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor, and his screenplay for The Third Man, also show Greene’s avid interest in the workings and intrigues of international politics and espionage.

Greene was born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire into a large, influential family that included the owners of the Greene King Brewery. He boarded at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, where his father taught and became headmaster. Unhappy at the school, he attempted suicide several times. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, to study history, where, while an undergraduate, he published his first work in 1925—a poorly received volume of poetry, Babbling April. After graduating, Greene worked first as a private tutor and then as a journalist—first on the Nottingham Journal and then as a sub-editor on The Times. He converted to Catholicism in 1926 after meeting his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning. He published his first novel, The Man Within, in 1929; its favourable reception enabled him to work full-time as a novelist. He supplemented his novelist’s income with freelance journalism, and book and film reviews. Greene originally divided his fiction into two genres (which he described as “entertainments” and “novels”): thrillers—often with notable philosophic edges—such as The Ministry of Fear; and literary works—on which he thought his literary reputation would rest—such as The Power and the Glory. Greene had a history of depression, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. He died in 1991, at age 86, of leukemia, and was buried in Corseaux cemetery. (Excerpted from Wikipedia)

Selected Novels: Stamboul Train (1932), England Made Me (1935), A Gun for Sale (1936), Brighton Rock (1938), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Ministry of Fear (1943), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Third Man (novella; 1949), The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955),  Our Man in Havana (1958), The Comedians (1966), The Honorary Consul (1973), The Human Factor (1978), Doctor Fischer of Geneva (1980).

Although, as I understand, Graham Greene abandoned this distinction later on, in an interview held in the spring of 1953 (The Paris Review, I (Autumn 1953), 25-41) he termed  ‘Entertainments’ such novels as Stamboul Train, Gun for Sale, The Confidential Agent, The Ministry of Fear and The Third Man and The Fallen Idol; in contrast to his literary novels (Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair). However he did not offer much insight to this distinction, except that the ‘Entertainments’, ‘as the name implies they do not carry a message (horrible word)’. Although it is more likely that the ‘Entertainments’ were aimed to provide him the financial means, at a time when he had given up his post at The Times, to devote himself to write full time. Be that as it may, the fact is that I find, in many cases, his so-called ‘Entertainments’ are at par with his literary novels.

The Ministry of Fear was one of Anthony Boucher’s twenty best crime novels of 1943. (The Passing Tramp)

From Wikipedia: The Ministry of Fear is a 1943 novel written by Graham Greene. It was first published in Britain by William Heinemann. It was made into the 1944 film Ministry of Fear, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Ray Milland. The title is explained in the book. The Nazi regime, in countries it controlled and in those it intended to subvert, built up information on individuals in order to blackmail them into co-operation. This Greene called their ministry of fear.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Heinemann (UK), 1943)

Synopsis: It is 1941 and bombs have turned London into the front line of a world war. In the shadows of the Blitz, Hitler’s agents are running a blackmail operation to obtain documents that could bring the nation to instant defeat. Arthur Rowe, a man once convicted of a notorious mercy killing, stumbles onto a German spy operation in Bloomsbury and must be silenced. But even with his memory taken from him, he is still a very dangerous witness. A taut thriller and a haunting exploration of pity, love, and guilt, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest of all spy novels. With an introduction by the biographer and editor Professor Richard Greene. Designed to appeal to the booklover, the Macmillan Collector’s Library is a series of beautifully bound gift editions of much loved classic titles. (Pan Macmillan, UK, publicity page)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. The Viking Press (USA), 1943)

Synopsis: For Arthur Rowe, the trip to the charity fête was a joyful step back into adolescence, a chance to forget the nightmare of the Blitz and the aching guilt of having mercifully murdered his sick wife. He was surviving alone, outside the war, until he happened to win a cake at the fête. From that moment, he is ruthlessly hunted by Nazi agents and finds himself the prey of malign and shadowy forces. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by Alan Furst. (Penguin Random House, US, publicity page)

The Ministry of Fear has been reviewed, among others, at Existential Ennui, Tipping My Fedora and The crime segments.

Review: A Gun for Sale (1936) by Graham Greene

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Vintage Digital, 2010. Kindle edition (385 KB) with a new introduction by Robert Macfarlane, 2005. First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann 1936. eISBN: 978-1-407086-73-6. ASIN: B0044KLQ0K. Pages 194. 


The action is set in 1936 Europe. A contract killer, known as Raven, receives the task of murdering the Minister of War of Yugoslavia. Raven is a sociopath with a psychological problem because of a cleft lip. The Minister is believed to be a pacifist; his assassination has the purpose of triggering a spiral of violence that should lead up to a declaration of war. The Minister was supposed to be alone, but his secretary has been delayed and she was still there when Raven arrives. He can be recognised easily due to his birth defect and has no choice but to kill her as well to leave no witnesses. He was told he should get rid of the gun, but Raven keeps it.

Back in London, Raven receives the agreed amount, in small denomination banknotes, directly from the hands of an intermediary who calls himself Mr. Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), but he soon discovers that the notes are marked and the police is after him for a crime he has not committed. To avoid being easily recognised, Raven goes to a certain Dr. Yogel to correct his cleft lip but he must leave in a hurry when he discovers that the nurse is calling the police.

‘These people were of his own kind, they didn’t belong inside the legal borders, for the second time in one day he had been betrayed by the lawless.’


There were too many things he didn’t understand: this war they were talking of, why he had been double-crossed. He wanted to find Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley was of no account, he was acting under orders, but if he found  Cholmondeley he could squeeze out of him … He was harassed, hunted, lonely, he bore with him a sense of great injustice and a curious pride.’

Somehow, Raven man to wait for Cholmondeley in a place where he finally shows up and he follows him until he catches a train bound to Nottwich (a fictional town modelled on Nottingham). In the same train Raven encounters Anne Crowder, who happens to be the fiancée of detective-sergeant Mather, the man in command of his capture. Raven kidnaps Anne, but he will end up trusting her upon realising she is willing to help him.

The opening paragraph is really great, and  I can’t help the quote here:

‘Murder didn’t mean much to Raven.  It was just a new job. You had to be careful. You had to use your brains. It was not a question of hatred. He had only seen the minister once: he had been pointed out to Raven as he walked down the new housing estate between the little lit Christmas trees–an old rather grubby man without any friends, who was said to love humanity.’  

I’m very glad to have read this novel by Graham Greene, perhaps it’s one of his less known books, and the first one he called ‘An Entertainment’. Although this distinction between his novels is no longer significant. Certainly the plot is the weakest point of this book due to an excess of coincidences that undermines its credibility. But I have very much enjoyed the portrait of the characters and the sense of place and time where the action unfolds. The novel was first published by Doubleday Doran in the U.S. in June 1936 as This Gun For Hire; and by William Heinemann in the U.K. in July 1936 as A Gun For Sale. This novel is probably best known by its adaptation to the big screen under the American title This Gun for Hire, a 1942 film noir directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Lad. The script, written by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett, has several significant changes. The story moves to the United States during the II WW. Raven doesn’t have a cleft lip, but a badly healed left wrist for ill-treatment during his boyhood. The foreign Minister of War is now a blackmailer and the rich industrialist that pulls the strings is willing to sell his poison gas formula to the Japanese. I had the chance to see the film during the last weekend and I certainly recommend it.  

My rating: B (I really liked it)

Also check out the very good, though much different, film version with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake

Reviewed by Dan Stumpf: GRAHAM GREENE – This Gun for Hire.

Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul

Is Graham Greene the father of film noir?

Vintage Classics (UK)

Penguin Books (US)


Una pistola en venta de Graham Greene

La acción se desarrolla en 1936 en Europa. Un asesino a sueldo, conocido como Raven, recibe la tarea de asesinar al ministro de la Guerra de Yugoslavia. Raven es un sociópata con un problema psicológico debido a un labio leporino. El Ministro se cree que es un pacifista; su asesinato tiene el propósito de desencadenar una espiral de violencia que debe conducir a una declaración de guerra. El Ministro se suponía que debía estar solo, pero su secretaria se ha retrasado y todavía estaba allí cuando llega Raven. Él puede ser reconocido con facilidad debido a su defecto congénito y no tiene más remedio que matarla también a ella para no dejar testigos. Se le dijo que debía deshacerse de la pistola, pero Raven se la guarda.

De vuelta en Londres, Raven recibe la cantidad acordada, en billetes pequeños, directamente de las manos de un intermediario que se hace llamar Sr. Cholmondeley (pronunciado Chumley), pero pronto descubre que los billetes están marcados y la policía está tras él por un crimen que no ha cometido. Para evitar ser reconocido fácilmente, Raven va a un tal Dr. Yogel para corregir el labio leporino, pero tiene que salir a toda prisa cuando descubre que la enfermera está llamando a la policía.

“Estas personas pertenecían a su propia clase, no estaban dentro de las fronteras de la ley, por segunda vez en un mismo día había sido traicionado por los que están fuera de ella.”

“Había demasiadas cosas que no entendía: esta guerra de la que estaban hablando, por qué había sido traicionado. Quería encontrar a Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley no debia ser tenido en cuenta, él actuaba bajo órdenes, pero si encontraba a Cholmondeley le podría obligar a hablar …  … Acosado, perseguido, solo, llevaba consigo una sensación de gran injusticia y cierto orgullo.” (Mi traducción libre)

De alguna manera, Raven se las arregla para esperar a que Cholmondeley en un lugar donde finalmente aparece y le sigue hasta que coge un tren con destino a Nottwich (una ciudad ficticia inspirada en Nottingham). En el mismo tren Raven se encuentra con Anne Crowder, que resulta ser la novia del detective sargento Mather, el hombre al mando de su captura. Cuervo secuestra a Anne, pero va a terminar confiando en ella al darse cuenta de que ella está dispuesta a ayudarlo.

El párrafo inicial es sensacional y no puedo evitar su cita aquí:

El asesinato no significaba gran cosa para Raven. Era sólo una nueva tarea. Tienes que tener cuidado. Tienes que usar tu cerebro. No es una cuestión de odio. Sólo había visto al ministro una vez: se lo habian señalado mientras pasaba por una nueva urbanización entre árboles de Navidad con poca iluminación. Un anciano bastante sucio, sin amigos, de quien se decía que amaba a la humanidad.” (Mi traducción libre)

Estoy muy contento de haber leído esta novela de Graham Greene: Tal vez es uno de sus libros menos conocidos, y el primero que llamó ‘un entretenimiento’. Aunque esta distinción entre sus novelas ya no es significativa. Ciertamente, la trama es el punto más débil de este libro, debido a un exceso de coincidencias que socava su credibilidad. Pero me ha gustado mucho el retrato de los personajes y el sentido de lugar y tiempo en que se desarrolla la acción. La novela fue publicada por primera vez por Doubleday Doran en los EE.UU. en junio de 1936 como This Gun for Hire; y por William Heinemann en el Reino Unido en julio de 1936 como A Gun for Sale. Esta novela es probablemente más conocida por su adaptación a la gran pantalla bajo el título en español de Contratado para matar, un film noir de 1942 dirigido por Frank Tuttle y protagonizado por Verónica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, y Alan Lad. El guión, escrito por Albert Maltz y WR Burnett, tiene varios cambios significativos. La historia se desarrolla en los Estados Unidos durante la II Guerra Mundial. Raven no tiene un labio leporino, sino una muñeca izquierda mal curada por malos tratos durante su infancia. El ministro de la guerra es ahora un chantajista y el rico industrial que mueve los hilos está dispuesto a vender su fórmula de gas venenoso a los japoneses. Tuve la oportunidad de ver la película durante el último fin de semana y sin duda la recomiendo.

Mi calificación: B (Me gustó)

Ver la reseña de Una pistola en venta en Novela negra y cine negro (Francisco Ortiz)

Review: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

In contribution to Rich Westwood’s #1958 book challenge

Penguin Books, 1991. Format Paperback. First published in 1958. ISBN: 0-14-018493-7. Pages 220.


The protagonist of our story is an Englishman named Jim Wormold that lives in Cuba and earns a living selling vacuum cleaners. He has a daughter, Milly, that will soon turn seventeen. His wife Mary, left them when Milly was about seven. Milly is the apple of his eyes. Wormold would like to give her every whim, no matter how expensive it may be, but this is not always possible, given his financial situation. One day he has a chance encounter with a fellow countryman in a cocktail-bar. The stranger asks him to go to the gents; he will follow him soon. Once there, and with great secrecy, the stranger proposes Wormold to become a member of the secret service of his country by appealing to his patriotism. Wormold cannot imagine how he can be of any use, but finally he accepts. The salary is $150 a month, with another hundred and fifty as expenses, free of income-tax. It won’t take Wormold long to find out how to increase his income, by writing false reports and recruiting false agents that only exist in his imagination. In London, his reports are taken seriously. His bosses are very enthusiastic with their new agent and decide to send him more help, a female secretary and a radio operator. But just when Wormold begins to worry that his lies will be discovered, all his inventions start to come true. 

Peter Hulme in an article entitled Graham Greene and Cuba: Our Man in Havana? available here, wrote: Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana was published on October 6, 1958. Seven days later Greene arrived in Havana with Carol Reed to arrange for the filming of the script of the novel, on which they had both been working. Meanwhile, after his defeat of the summer offensive mounted by the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in the mountains of eastern Cuba, just south of Bayamo, Fidel Castro had recently taken the military initiative: the day after Greene and Reed’s arrival on the island, Che Guevara reached Las Villas, moving westwards towards Havana. Six weeks later, on January 1, 1959, after Batista had fled the island, Castro and his Cuban Revolution took power. In April 1959 Greene and Reed were back in Havana with a film crew to film Our Man in Havana. The film was released in January 1960. A note at the beginning of the film says that it is “set before the recent revolution.”

There was a time when Graham Greene was one of my favourite writers. I recall I’ve read most of his books, but I’m not sure to have read Our Man in Havana. The argument is familiar, maybe because I’ve seen the film directed by Carol Reed based on this novel. Anyway I thought that Rich’s 1958 book challenge offers an excellent opportunity to read or reread this book, as the case maybe. I really think this novel is highly representative of the year in question.   

Our Man in Havana has by subtitle An entertainment. Perhaps Greene himself wanted to distinguish it from the rest his works of a greater literary quality. It’s certainly a highly entertaining book, very readable. A delightful read thanks to Greene’s excellent prose. Despite its many favourable reviews, I don’t consider it among Greene’s very best. The argument has reminded me very much of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, far superior in my view. The plot has several elements that  remain unclear and the story is somewhat naïf for present day standards. In any case it does reflect the grade of paranoia reached during the cold war.

My rating: B (I really liked it)

Our Man in Havana has been reviewed at Seeing the world through books

Vintage Classics

Penguin US

Nuestro hombre en la Habana de Graham Greene

El protagonista de nuestra historia es un inglés llamado Jim Wormold que vive en Cuba y se gana la vida vendiendo aspiradoras. Tiene una hija, Milly, que pronto cumplirá los diecisiete años. Su mujer Mary, los abandonó cuando Milly tenía unos siete años. Milly es la niña de sus ojos. Wormold querría darle todos sus caprichos, no importa lo caros que puedan ser, pero eso no siempre es posible, debido a su situación financiera. Un día tiene un encuentro casual con un compatriota en un cóctel-bar. El desconocido le pide que vaya al sevicio de caballeros, él le seguirá en seguida. Una vez allí, y con gran secreto, el extraño le propone a Wormold convertirse en miembro de los servicios secretos de su país, apelando a su patriotismo. Wormold no puede imaginar en qué puede ser de utilidad, pero finalmente acepta. El salario es de $150 al mes, con otros ciento cincuenta para gastos, libres de impuestos. Wormold no tardará mucho en descubrir cómo aumentar sus ingresos mediante la redacción de informes falsos y la contratación de agentes inventados que sólo existen en su imaginación. En Londres, sus informes son tomados en serio. Sus jefes están muy entusiasmados con su nuevo agente y deciden mandarle más ayuda, una secretaria y un operador de radio. Pero justo cuando Wormold comienza a preocuparse de que se puedan descubrir sus mentiras, todos sus inventos empezarán a hacerse realidad.

Peter Hulme en un artículo titulado Graham Greene y Cuba: Nuestro hombre en La Habana? disponible aquí, escribió: la novela de Graham Greene Nuestro hombre en La Habana fue publicada el 6 de octubre de 1958, siete días después Greene llegó a La Habana con Carol Reed para organizar el rodaje de la secuencia de comandos de la novela, en la que ambos habían estado trabajando. Mientras tanto, después de su derrota en la ofensiva de verano montada por el dictador cubano, Fulgencio Batista, en las montañas del este de Cuba, al sur de Bayamo, Fidel Castro había tomado recientemente la iniciativa militar: el día después de la llegada de Greene y Reed a la isla, el Che Guevara llegó a Las Villas, moviéndose hacia el oeste hacia La Habana. Seis semanas más tarde, el 1 de enero de 1959, después de que Batista hubiera huido de la isla, Castro y su revolución cubana tomaron el poder. En abril de 1959 Greene y Reed estaban de vuelta en La Habana con un equipo de rodaje para rodar Nuestro hombre en La Habana. La película fue estrenada en enero de 1960 una nota al principio de la película dice que “tiene lugar antes de la reciente revolución.”

Hubo un momento en que Graham Greene era uno de mis escritores favoritos. Recuerdo que he leído la mayoría de sus libros, pero no estoy seguro de haber leído Nuestro hombre en La Habana. El argumento me es familiar, tal vez porque he visto la película dirigida por Carol Reed basada en esta novela. De todos modos pensé qu el desafío de libros 1958 de Rich ofrecia una excelente oportunidad, para leer o releer este libro según sea el caso. Realmente creo que esta novela es muy representativa del año en cuestión.

Nuestro hombre en La Habana tiene por subtítulo Un entretenimiento. Tal vez el propio Greene quiso distinguirlo del resto de sus obras de mayor calidad literaria. Es sin duda un libro muy entretenido, de fácil lectura. Una lectura muy agradable gracias a la excelente prosa de Greene. A pesar de sus muchos comentarios favorables, yo no lo considero entre los mejores de Greene. El argumento me ha recordado mucho a Scoop de Evelyn Waugh, muy superior en mi opinión. La trama tiene varios elementos que no están claros y la historia es un tanto naïf para los estándares actuales. En cualquier caso, refleja bien el grado de paranoia alcanzado durante la guerra fría.

Mi calificación: B (Me gustó)

Alianza editorial

Friday’s Forgotten Books: Brighton Rock

I must thank my teacher of literature who made us read Graham Greene when I was fifteen. I first read The Power and the Glory, but since then I have read most of Greene’s books. Brighton Rock is, without doubt, one of my favourites. What I like most of Brighton Rock is how the plot unfolds. Greene also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation that was produced and directed by John and Roy Boulting in 1947.

Read an excerpt HERE.

‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’. This powerful and sinister sentence is the opening line of Brighton Rock and the start of a gripping thriller. Part One of the novel, despite Greene’s later concerns that it should have been removed, sets the scene and introduces the two main protagonists, Ida and Pinkie (initially referred to as ‘the boy’ – it is not until Chapter Two that he takes on the role of main character and becomes ‘the Boy’). However, from Part Two onwards, it is quickly apparent that the novel is not just a murder mystery but also addresses metaphysical issues of Good versus Evil and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.  (Graham Greene, Brighton Rock, The Characterisation of Good and Evil by Sarah Jones)

‘The three novels published between 1938 and 1948 (Brighton Rock, The Power and The Glory and The Heart of the Matter) are sometimes taken together as a ‘trilogy’.  Brighton Rock marks the beginning of Greene’s ‘Serious novels’. Published in 1938, it is the story of the world of race gangs and deals with the question of sin, Damnation and Salvation. A depth of meaning is to be found in this novel and the ones which followed this, setting apart the secular novels. The handling of a specifically catholic theme relates this novel to The Power and the Glory (1940) and The Heart of the Matter (1948)’. Prof. G. Chandramohan at The Indian Review of World Literature in English, Vol. 1, No. I – Jan, 2005) HERE.

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