My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was my first exposure to Graham Greene. I very quickly found myself reading (and more or less enjoying) these perfectly crafted stories as items of social history and examples of wonderfully understated prose in which no word is wasted.
I couldn’t say that these are the sort of stories that I really enjoy. Perhaps Greene’s brilliance lies in his ability to create characters that are so unappealing and remote that they elicited no sympathy from me as a reader. He paints them and their world in dispassionate, harsh, gaslit penstrokes and allows no glimmer of hope to creep in under the door. I should not, however, allow my personal preference for optimistic art and happy endings to prevent me from appreciating that every one of these stories is perfectly honed.
A pervasive theme of corruption is worked over repeatedly in scenarios of adultery, suicide, disease, ageing, childhood, and loveless marriage, with the occasional intervention of black humour.
The one story that will stay with me is “The Basement Room” – a desolate account of a child prematurely initiated into the world of adults and their “secrets” that was reminiscent of some of L.P. Hartley‘s rite-of-passage works.
I did enjoy the way Greene leaves a lot to the reader, allowing the stories to stand on their own, often unresolved and unexplained. In fact, stopping short of talking myself round to saying that this book was brilliant and I loved it, I’ll concede that he is a consumately masterful writer and storyteller but this is not my bag. My personal taste is for literature that is at least cathartic if not more positive about human nature.