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The Comedians

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3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  4,252 ratings  ·  311 reviews
Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt “Papa Doc” and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American, and Jones the confidence man—these are the “comedians” of Greene’s title. Hiding behind their actors’ masks, they hesitate on the edge of life. They are men afraid of love, afraid of pa ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published 1965)
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The End of the Affair by Graham GreeneThe Quiet American by Graham GreeneThe Power and the Glory by Graham GreeneOur Man in Havana by Graham GreeneBrighton Rock by Graham Greene
Best Graham Greene novels
8th out of 24 books — 134 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Outsiders by S.E. HintonOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseySlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Best Books of the Decade: 1960's
135th out of 645 books — 885 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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William1
This is without exception my favorite Graham Greene novel. Love and murder in 1960's Haiti among the evil Papa Doc Duvalier's Tonton Macute. The evocation of landscape and murderous heat and voodoo would alone be enough to hold our attention. But there's more than that: there's a great story of intrigue and jealousy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Evan
I've just finished this and am basking in some kind of awestruck state. The more I read of Greene, the more I'm slain. The main character, Brown, must be a sort of surrogate for the author: jaded, cynical, fatalistic; a realist who nonetheless has just enough of that kernel of optimism that allows him to hope against hope, to sometimes do the right thing even as the cowardly part of him offers token resistance.

The book takes place in Haiti in the early 1960s during the early days of the terroris
...more
Teresa
At several points during my reading of this novel -- because of its crisp, realistic dialogue; dangerous setting; and intriguing, imperfect characters -- I imagined it as a movie. I just looked it up on imdb.com and, yes, there is a 1967 movie with, ugh, Burton and Taylor, not at all whom I envisioned for the roles.

Perhaps because of its title, I thought the novel would be of a sharp, exaggerated satire, but, no, I suppose the Haiti of Duvalier was surreal enough. At first meeting the three men
...more
Sketchbook
Monstrously good -- and disturbing.

A few hundred miles off the Florida coast you'll find "an evil floating slum," says Greene, who makes us aware of the violent and corrupt republic of Haiti. Throughout the 60s it was ruled by Papa "Doc" Duvalier, a crackpot viper-tyrant (Hitler meets a runaway from any PG Wodehouse novel), who jibbered anti-Com jingles. Result: he murdered thousands of his own people while pocketing millions in US aid.

Welcome to a perfect Greeneland. (If GG were alive he'd writ
...more
Steve
Several years back, after reading Robert Stone’s (underappreciated) Bay of Souls, I saw someone somewhere say that Stone had departed from his Conradian foundation, and had pulled a Delillo on readers. I puzzled over that, because even though Bay of Souls is a change in approach, I didn’t see any of the incomprehensible Falling Man in Stone’s hallucinogenic tropical nightmare book. With Graham Greene’s The Comedians, however, I believe I have found the source for Stone’s trippy foray. And it ma ...more
AC
This was ok -- some interesting reflections on the comedians in the middle -- but frankly, imo, and given Greene's stature, it should have been better. Hence, a book that's just a notch below 4 gets rounded down to 3.

First of all, it has none of the aching beauty of the Quiet American -- perhaps because Haiti is not as romantic in my eyes as is Vietnam. Secondly, for a book that pretends to be a political thriller (of sorts), the plot is simply much, much too loose. It really feels as though he
...more
Drew
Not a terribly funny book, despite the title. Not that I expected it to be, given other stuff I've read by him. I was mostly intrigued by the fact that it takes place in Haiti during Papa Doc Duvalier's regime: a supremely messed-up time and place. And Greene does Haiti well; it seems like they were made for each other, though I've got the feeling Greene can evoke any place pretty well. This is marginally lighter fare than either The Power and the Glory or The Heart of the Matter, and considerab ...more
Daniel Villines
Our lives are spent creating our own realities by mixing facts and beliefs together. The result may be plausible but it certainly is not real. And who can blame us? This very mixture helped us to survive. Fact: the lion is stalking me. Belief: if I run to that place, I will live. And so societies are born, careers are made, and we survive all because we acted on the facts at hand in conjunction with our beliefs in an outcome.

At times, however, the mixture becomes grossly imbalanced. Our beliefs
...more
Elaine
Graham Greene is my new favorite author. Paul Theroux dissed this book in his introduction, but it was just Paul Theroux showing that he doesn't know much. This is sort of a book about Haiti and totalitarianism and brutality and corruption and the Evil Empire (America) but it is more a book about loss, rootlessness, the emptiness of the middle of the night, fatherlessness, faith and lack thereof... Greene is deep, clean, concise. Theroux says that it seems dated 40 years on, but that's only if y ...more
BrokenTune
" ‘Any news of the Baron?’ It was the name some gave to the President as an alternative to Papa Doc – we dignified his shambling shabby figure with the title of Baron Samedi, who in the Voodoo mythology haunts the cemeteries in his top-hat and tails, smoking his big cigar. ‘They say he hasn’t been seen for three months. He doesn’t even come to a window of the palace to watch the band. He might be dead for all anyone knows. If he can die without a silver bullet."

So far, The Comedians is my favour
...more
Darwin8u
"We mustn't complain too much of being comedians—it's an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed—that's all. We are bad comedians, we aren't bad men."

I started out thinking I was going to just read a 'minor' Greene, and finished the novel once again shocked by my ability to completely underestimate Greene. The Comedians is a dark tragedy set in a Haitian Hell ruled by Papa Doc and his Tonton Macoute. Into this tortured h
...more
Rob
Phenomenally good, even by Greene's standards, the Berkhamsted boy doing good with a classic tale on that saddest and most fascinating of countries, Haiti. Set at the time of Papa Doc Duvalier and his chilling secret police, the Tonton Macoute, it's a bizarre tale where the only answer to the sequence of events is black humour of a very dark kind.

The characters are well drawn and sympathetic including the fantasist Mr. Jones and the decent Mr. Smith while the narrator's lovelorn jealousy is a th
...more
Judith Shadford
I read it a long, long time ago, but since I knew nothing of Haiti or Papa Doc or the Tonton Macoutes, the story made little sense. Thought they were birds for a while.
Reread an old paperback edition, the cover noting "Coming soon" a major motion picture starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Alec Guinness and Peter Ustinov. All dead. All gone.
Not a bad context for reading Comedians, because "Brown" the protagonist, like many Greene protagonists, can't quite make out what is going on. T
...more
Bill
absolutely excellent novel about haiti under papa doc duvalier.extremely ironic title as there wasn't anything remotely funny happening in that country under his rule.and not much since then either.
Trina
This short novel is not concerned with spiritual struggle as much of Greene's work. Instead the protagonist, Brown, faces the end of his life as a perpetual expatriot whose ideals, if he indeed ever had any, have been completely shattered by the takeover of Haiti by Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoute. Always lovely writing, with memorable descriptions of Haiti's landscape and climate, some very amusing people, and arresting passages about the nature of life, such as this one voiced by the true sage ...more
Justin Evans
For Greene, this was epically long- nearly 300 pages? The heck? Unwonted length aside, though, it's standard Greene: foreign country, political machinations, darkness, weirdly sex-obsessed leading man and his illicit, tortured relationship with a married woman, naive Americans, cynical Englishmen and so forth.

It's also, sadly, slightly substandard Greene as far as structure. It's very flabby- there are, in effect, three storylines, which only interact insofar as the characters involved happen t
...more
Roderick Hart
The edition I have begins with a letter to a publisher which we would be better without. Because the story is told by one of the characters, Greene points out that Brown is not Greene. Well, I wouldn't have thought of that! Then he notes that Brown, like Greene, is a Catholic. He justifies this on statistical grounds, which is just about as stupid as you can get.

'It is often forgotten that, even in the case of a novel laid in England, the story when it contains more than ten characters would la
...more
Nikki
I'm giving four stars to The Comedians, because it is very much awesome. Open ending, but not really a happy one in my opinion, it leaves some empty feeling in the end, questioning whether anything we do is really worth in the end if we lose all friends and family. Idk, might be my current existential crisis speaking, but still.
Liked the characters, I really liked Martha, not so sure why. Loved the writing, the whole story, along with the characters.
Andrew Schirmer
Top-shelf Greene, largely free of impurities (moralizing). And the not-so-quiet Americans turn out to be okay.
Emily
Set in Port au Prince, Haiti, this novel shows the lives of foreign immigrants during the oppressive regime of Papa Doc and his Tontons Macoute secret police (translated as the Boogeyman). Using a tale of suspense and danger, Greene builds interesting portraits of his characters, each reacting to life in a terror-ruled country differently.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith are the naive Americans who see the country as something to be pitied. They are ignorant to realities of the average life in Haiti: corrupt
...more
Mac
I've had strangely mixed experiences with Graham Greene's books - I like a few of them very much, and then others outright bug me. This one, happily, I enjoyed quite a bit, though perhaps because it's so similar to the other novels of his I enjoy.

One could make an argument, probably, that this book should really be called "The Quiet Americans Go to Haiti," since quite a lot of the earlier book - naive American meddling, worn-down and cynical British men, a tropical and exotic location with a do
...more
Jason Gignac
I fully expected to think well of this book - I did, though not at all for the reasons I expected. I thought this book would appeal to my long interest in Haiti - it is a novel, after all, about a group of foreigners in Duvalierist Port-au-Prince. The novel did a fine job of telling how horrible Haiti under Duvalier was - and it certainly was.

However, the novel is great beyond that - after all, one could learn plenty of gruesome facts about Haiti from... well... almost any book that has to do wi
...more
Anna
Graham Greene's 1965 Haiti-under-Papa-Doc novel, The Comedians, is the story of three unremarkably-named men who meet on a boat to Port-au-Prince: Smith, an American presidential candidate, who ran against Truman on a vegetarian platform, and proudly polled 10,000 votes; the clearly pseudonymed Jones, a trickster of mysterious origins (a trope no one does better than Greene); and Brown, our narrator, another Greene archetype, this one the rootless, jaded, aging British expatriate who becomes cau ...more
Adam
I’ve always wanted to read Greene because of my love for the film The Third Man, and I’m not sure why I choose this one to start, but it was an excellent choice. A cynical hotelier, a confidence man, and an idealist couple travel to an island ruled by a mad doctor, their respective names are Browne, Jones, and Smith. What type of story is this? Well this book discusses whether we are in tragedy, a comedy, an adventure story, or a romance and can never quite decide, in which lies the truth. Set i ...more
Martin
Dark & depressing, but also sardonic & darkly funny at times. Author conveys a sense of despair & futility prevalent in Haiti during dictator François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier's repressive regime, during which the Tontons Macoute, his secret police - bullies/goons with sunglasses - were not only above the law, they were the law. Powerful story, especially keeping in mind that this (or something very much like it) is still going on today, in a number of countries.

The travelogue aspect of t
...more
Bonnie
Sep 22, 2010 Bonnie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Graham Greene; ex-pats living in foreign countries; Haitians
Recommended to Bonnie by: little ol' me
I picked up this little book at a used bookstore for pennies because it was written by an author I love. I say that, not having actually read all that many books by Graham Greene (3 including this one)

It was really quite remarkable to read a book that took place during Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti (had 60,000 people killed, mostly political prisoners during his 1957-1971 regime) then, and to know first-hand (somewhat, that is) the Haiti of today. Greene was a bit of a prophet I'd say. With all the
...more
Robert
Feb 05, 2015 Robert added it
The Comedians is a novel that reflects Graham Greene's wandering life and mind. He had a taste for turbulence in out of the way places--in this case, Haiti. His narrator, named Brown, was born and abandoned to the Jesuits in Monaco, only to learn that his runaway mother intended to leave him a hotel she'd bought in Port au Prince. She dies early on in the novel, and here we have Brown in his hotel with two guests--bumbling but somehow noble Americans--under the watchful eyes of the Tontons Macou ...more
Lois
"Papa Doc is a bulwark against Communism."

Graham Greene had an amazing ability to be prescient, as you can see in both this book and The Quiet American. This fictional book, which uses Haiti's real-life government, circa early 1960s, as the basis of the plot, unfortunately presages the disastrous governments that Haiti endured then and since.

Graham Greene, in his Foreword, specifically denies that the narrator here is himself. Perhaps, but how is it that the same world-weary, disaffected man of
...more
K. Velk
I have been thinking of Graham Greene again lately, though I haven't read his books since the advent of Goodreads. I went through them all, I think, back in my early 20s (I'm closing on 50 a little too fast now). I'm thinking that I need to re-read _The Power and the Glory_ ...

The Comedians didn't grab me and hold me the way some of his other books did, but I still found much to admire. The high point for me was the observation by one of his characters (I think I heard Greene speaking right to m
...more
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French in The Comedians 2 21 Sep 06, 2013 02:54PM  
graham greene books 2 30 Sep 06, 2013 02:53PM  
  • The Rainy Season
  • The End of the Battle
  • The Uses of Haiti
  • Ashenden
  • The Post-Colonial Studies Reader
  • All Souls' Rising
  • The Viceroy of Ouidah (Vintage Classics)
  • Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution
  • Athena (The Freddie Montgomery Trilogy, #3)
  • Haiti Noir
  • An Accidental Man
  • The Bellarosa Connection
  • The Innocent
  • Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment
  • Asterix Versus Caesar
  • The Complete Guide To Asterix
  • Close Quarters (To the Ends of the Earth, #2)
  • Nervous People and Other Satires
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Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a “Catholic novelist” rather than as a “novelist who happened to be Ca
...more
More about Graham Greene...
The Quiet American The End of the Affair The Power and the Glory The Heart of the Matter Our Man in Havana

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