Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Graham Greene's The Honorary Consul

I read Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul, first published in 1973. I was prompted to read it after seeing Jeff Barry’s review at Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. It is set in the northern Argentine town of Corrientes, on the border with Paraguay, and tells the story of Paraguayan revolutionaries conducting a botched kidnapping, intending to get the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina but ending up with the Honorary British Consul.

For a Cold War novel it is noteworthy that Greene paints all the characters sympathetically. We are not inclined to dislike the police colonel, the former priest-turned-revolutionary, the alcoholic honorary consul, his prostitute wife, or the strikingly amoral Doctor Plarr, around whom the plot revolves. Further, they are all sympathetic to each other, as neither fear nor loathing is apparent. Greene is more interested in the relationships between the characters than the political context itself.

It has a tight plot, which constantly left me wondering how it might end (i.e. we know some combination of people will likely die, but who?). Throughout, most of the characters reflect on the circumstances that brought them there, which increases the tension. Despite the political nature of the novel, it focuses quite a lot on love and commitment—not only in terms of personal relationships but also political causes--as important themes.

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