Book Review

The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene

Photo on 08-09-2013 at 19.16

Right. My blog is back in business, back to books. (As I’m sure you can see, my hair is far, far, too long. However, I don’t have the money to pay for a haircut and I have been expressly forbidden from shaving it all off, the only cut I could do myself.)

The Honorary Consul is a late Graham Greene, a racy thriller set in rural Argentina in the seventies, when it was written. It is about a caddish doctor (Eduardo Plarr) in his early thirties who accidentally gets the husband of his current lover (Charley Fortnum) kidnapped by a group of Paraguayan rebels*. The doctor, whose long missing father was an Englishman deeply involved with the rebel’s cause, had leaked information regarding the travel itinerary of the American Ambassador, the intended kidnap victim. Although it perhaps sounds like a farcical “confused identities” kind of book, what with its heavy boozing, frequent brothel trips and bizarre non-sequiteur anecdotes about Eduardo’s sex life**, it actually becomes a rather taut, nasty thriller. The leader of the rebels, an old schoolfriend of the doctor, is a former, now married, priest (A LAPSED CATHOLIC IN A GRAHAM GREENE NOVEL, WHAAAAA???), racked with guilt and fear regarding the execution he will almost certainly have to commit after acquiring a hostage with much less political clout than expected. For Fortnum is not a real member of the diplomatic corps, his title a friendly gesture, his only interests his damaged Land Rover, his former prostitute forty-year-younger wife (IN A GRAHAM GREENE NOVEL???) and his crippling addiction to alcohol. Which is quite severe.

It jumps around a few times and a few locations in this twentieth century Argentina, and the reader meets a lot of often quite fleshed out inhabitants of a large, provincial town. It has all of the classic elements of a Graham Greene novel (see my parenthesised capitalised comments above), it is crisply written, sometimes witty, sometimes sharp, and exciting (I suppose) throughout. Reminded me a little of Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano (see review HERE) with its “alcoholics far out of their comfort zone in Latin America” vibe, but it is a much simpler and much less moving novel than that. And, besides, Mexico and Argentina are very different countries.

Not the best book by the author I’ve read, but solid, as expected, well written, pacey.

If you want to enjoy some Graham Greene, it scratches an itch. If you’re looking for top quality Graham Greene, it’s not up there with The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, Travels With My Aunt, Our Man In Havana or The Quiet American. Read those first.

NB: Note my controversial exclusion of Brighton Rock from that list. It’s a young man’s novel. And Greene was at his best when he’d warmed to the task just a little bit more.


*The political cause is never truly explained. Perhaps this would have been assumed knowledge at the time of writing/publication.

**Including  one about the time when he shagged a woman in a chair while her narcoleptic husband slept at the other end of the room, but the doctor had to maintain a babble of conversation so the husband wouldn’t wake up, and he recounted the story of Goldilocks as he was straddled and enjoyed. Odd.


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