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The Heart of the Matter

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  15,851 ratings  ·  697 reviews
Scobie is a highly principled officer in a war-torn West African state. When he is passed over for promotion he is forced to borrow money to send his despairing wife away on a holiday.

In her absence he falls hopelessly in love with Helen, a young widow, and his life is transformed by the experience. With a duty to repay his debts and an inability to distinguish between lov
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 7th 2004 by Vintage Classics (first published 1948)
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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
6th out of 24 books — 128 voters
1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
46th out of 393 books — 475 voters

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Community Reviews

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“We’d forgive most things if we knew the facts.” Though there are many conflicted Catholics, few have had the gift of observation, insight, and expression like Graham Greene, who exercised extraordinary precision in dramatizing religious anguish. At the center of this novel is the response of pity toward a suffering humanity. “To be a human being one had to drink the cup.”

Major Scobie, an honest but unsuccessful British civil servant stationed in Sierra Leone during World War II, borrows money
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Book Circle Reads 35

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Graham Greene's masterpiece The Heart of the Matter tells the story of a good man enmeshed in love, intrigue, and evil in a West African coastal town. Scobie is bound by strict integrity to his role as assistant police commissioner and by severe responsibility to his wife, Louise, for whom he cares with a fatal pity.

When Scobie falls in love with the young widow Helen, he finds vital passion again yielding to pity, integrity giving way to
I know exactly why I love Graham Greene novels; and this, The Heart of the Matter, is a shining example of Greene at his best. It is vintage Greene, containing all his themes and strengths. No, it's not my favorite from him; but from I've read thus far, it is the best example of all he's capable of -- it is the novel I recommend you try if you want to find out if he's for you.

For one, this has the classic Greene love struggles: men and women caught up in that irresistible, uncontrollable force.
Jun 16, 2010 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels

*** Spoilers ahoy but we're all friends aren't we?****

As our tale opens, Major Henry Scobie is stuck in a you never close your eyes anymore when you kiss my lips type situation with Mrs Major Henry Scobie aka Louise and there’s a big thought bubble coming out of both their heads which says Where did our love go? Well, after 15 years, what do you expect darlin? Then this new character strolls in called Wilson and he cl
Four stars, because of the quality of the writing. But I am going to disagree with the label that goes with it, that of "really liked it." Because I did not. I feel no affection for this book, and I doubt that I will ever re-read it for many reasons that I will state below. But for those just reading this to get a quick glance about whether they should read it or not: you should, in short. It is worth it. I just would not expect to fall in love.

The book focuses on Major Scobie, a policeman in a
Sep 08, 2008 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lapsed (or practicing) Catholics; anyone with a slightly masochistic streak
Every time I read Graham Greene, I vow to read more Graham Greene. He digs so utterly, completely into the souls of his characters--really, you know them better than most of the real people in your life. Major Scobie is no exception. In fact, everything about this man is laid bare.

Scobie is a good man. He is upstanding and moral in a place (British colonial West Africa), time (WWII), and profession (the police) that values deception, injustice, and corruption. The petty colonial British society
This is what happens when you live your life trying to get a piece of Sky Cake* in the great hereafter. Not only will you probably make yourself miserable while you’re here on earth and waste time that could be spent eating delicious actual cake, but you’ll most likely fuck up the life of everyone else involved with you.

*(For the detailed explanation of the concept of Sky Cake, check out comedian Patton Oswalt’s routine of the same name.)

Henry Scobie is a police officer in an unnamed British col
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Krok Zero
Policeman stationed in colonial Africa cheats on his wife, gets involved with shady diamond smugglers, struggles with his Catholic faith, and endures no end of anguished self-analytical rumination. Funsy!

Three stars means "liked it." I liked it. But the thing is, I recently read Greene's The Quiet American, and looooved it, and hoped this would be in the same vein and that I would loooove it, but it wasn't and I didn't.

The Quiet American is tightly plotted, full of witty irony, sharply drawn cha
At one time in my life I read a lot of Grahame Greene, I don't know precisely when but it must have been in late autumn or winter because my memory of so many is dreary, rain on the window panes, dark, action played out in black and white. An alien mind with a curious if twisted consistency. A feeling of inevitable betrayal and fear of failure in The Confidential Agent. Relationships here or in The Quiet American as promising a particularly dreary doom. A decaying post war feeling that suggests ...more
I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my wife. I hate my mistress. I love God but hate him for making me Catholic. I hate my servant. I hate the guy blackmailing me. I hate the guy who's spying on me and is in love with my wife. I hate everyone around me. I hate that I might be going to Hell.

Well, I hate this book. I hate the story. I hate the characters. I hate the main characters name. I hate the setting. I hate the Catholic guilt that rears its useless head every third page. I hate the whiny
"The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being--it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths. He involved himself in what he always knew was a vain struggle to retain the lies."

There are a lot of quotable lines in Greene.
He's very good at mapping the territory of despair. His characters are very real, as is the setting. The novel is both cinematic and introspective. I've read only one o
I may be alone, or nearly so, in thinking that this is significantly better than The Power and the Glory. I'm pretty sure Greene himself regarded the latter as better. But here's my case. First of all, and this is huge, the characters of The Heart of the Matter are way more complete -- instead of the one-off resentful schoolmaster or the treacherous mestizo (referred to as "the half-caste" over 90 percent of the time, for some reason), we have the enigmatic servant "boy" Ali; the continually sur ...more
Poor Scobie. This is pure tragedy but I still enjoyed it. Great intrigue and I love Greene's dialogue. I wish I had not know the end.

SO, Miss Gennese, whoever you are, thank you for writing the ending on page 94. Thank you for the obvious and ridiculous observations. Thank you for circling the words vulture, grey, and sea on every page. Thank you for the numerous other observations that I would rather have not read. At least half of your script was illegible and generally I was able to turn a p
Scobie has an extreme case of Messiah Complex, doesn't he? He not only thinks he has to protect his wife and mistress from pain, he also has to protect God. Although I do not agree at all with Scobie's thinking, I do think the author did a great job in portraying him.
Ever since I read "The Quiet American," followed by "The Human Factor," I have counted Greene as one of my favorite authors for his clear, beautiful prose and his uncanny talent for creating a fictional portrait of human emotions that evokes similar sentiments in the reader. With "Heart of the Matter" now digested and ready to stand alongside its brethren on the shelf, my respect for Greene's work waxes all the greater.

The setting in this book makes you feel uncomfortable, and Scobie's outlook o
Jan 09, 2008 Ariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Erin!
Recommended to Ariel by: Louis
Shelves: 2008
This one snuck up on me...I wasn't crazy about the beginning, aside from a choice phrase describing memory as a wound that would be awakened by the smell of gin in the afternoon. Maybe my feelings about the first half weren't helped by reading it on a plane, either.

But then...well, typical Graham Greene. First, that the gin in the afternoon bit was far from the only sentence that seems to reach out and slap you across the face with a few well-placed words. His prose is so simple...I tend to buy
Oct 27, 2007 Chris rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Repressed gin enthusiasts
OK, so I sort of knew coming into this that Graham Greene is one of Those Writers -- not one with anything specific about them that I ever heard, but definitely a guy who some folks love, find wildly influential, etc. And there are aspects that live up to all that back-jacket hype: The depictions of a corrupt (surprise!) colonial Africa, the mild touches of dry, British wit scattered throughout courtesy of the conflictedly helpless (or helplessly conflicted) main character and, naturally, a big ...more
I am a big fan of Graham Greene, who produced a corpus of entertainments and novels that plumb the anguish, scars and comedy so liberally dispensed by morality, guilt, love, bruised intentions and battered idealism in the twentieth century. The Heart of the Matter was my first exposure to Greene, and he really delivered with this melancholy and poignant tale of catholic guilt and non-denominational pride amongst British colonial settlers in West Africa during the Second World War.

It's actually W
It’s hard for me to review The Heart of the Matter without mentioning The Power and the Glory, so I won’t even try. While many people think The Power and the Glory is Greene’s tragic masterpiece, I think the case could be made for this book. In a way, The Heart of the Matter is the reciprocal of The Power and the Glory – instead of leading a fairly villainous protagonist on a path to redemption through death at the hands of the ruling authority, it takes a basically good authority figure, the po ...more
Good God, I thought Greene's A Burnt-Out Case and The End of the Affair were the biggest heaps of Catholic guilt until I read this. Because religion is not my bag I tend not to care much for books about people struggling with questions of faith and sin and such, but Greene's books have a more universal appeal, I think, insofar as they point out the hyprocrisies that go along with adhering to inherently impossible strict moral codes. Those things do appeal to me, and, as usual, Greene addresses t ...more
This is not a review. I finished this book a week ago and have been trying to write a review for it several times but words just fail to describe the detachment I was left with on finishing.
So, instead of a review, here is a rant spurned by having wasted time on this book.

Yes, Greene's writing is wonderful - the wordsmithing, that is: the descriptions of the West African mid-war setting, the descriptions of pink gins, the descriptions of Scobie's thoughts.

However, none of this helped to warm t
Greene was master story teller and wrote 24 novels, which were translated into 27 languages and sold over 20 million copies. Most of these were ‘thrillers,’ and many were turned into film. During his middle years, he wrote four ‘serious novels’ (sometimes called ‘Catholic novels’) that placed much more attention on the internal motivations of his characters.

The Heart of the Matter was his first major blockbuster (and how do you not like a book where the lead character says in the opening: “Point
Part of me really wants to despise Scopes for relegating his life to Catholicism so absolutely that the lines between his feelings of pity, love, and obligation are so blurred as to be nonexistent. The other part of me admires his principled nature, his loyalty, and responsibility to others at the expense of himself. I suppose this is the conflict at the heart of many religions-particularly Catholicism-the balance of self-sacrifice vs. the needs of the individual and how close one wants to feel ...more
Justin Evans
As good as The Power and the Glory? Nope. As good as The Quiet American? Yeah. I read some other peoples' reviews, and along with the usual 'oh, i didn't like any of the characters' (really? how many people do you like outside of books?) and 'it's just depressing' (yes. If only all books could fill my life with joy and ice-cream sprinkles, I would be so happy), I realized that any fiction written before, say, 1970, can't win. If it's set in the colonies, then it's being imperialistic and anti-fe ...more
Aug 13, 2012 Abigail rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone: despite the rating this is pure literature
Rating: 3.5 ***Spoilers ahead***
Graham Greene wrote that: "The character of Scobie was intended to show that pity can be the expression of an almost monstrous pride." Yet few readers consider Scobie to be morally atrocious. In the end, they apply as much pity to him as he suffered for Helen, Louise and everyone else. To readers, Scobie was 'a good man', exonerated of all his sins.

Not this reader.

In many ways this was a novel that I was both infinitely prepared for but also damn near impossible f
Kate Sylvan

1. "Scobie" sounds like a type of bacterial infection. Greene might as well have named him Major Henry Impetigo. At least "Impetigo" has some dash to it.

2. If you're ever talking to a friend and that friend says, "You know, I don't think colonialism was really THAT awful," give them a copy of this book, and then unfriend that friend.

3. I have a hugely difficult time understanding why anyone would ever want to spend time with Widow Helen, let alone fall in love with her. I mean this is a
Daniel Villines
Greene creates a protagonist that acts on the best of his heartfelt intentions but fails to think about the ultimate results his actions. For a multitude of reasons, the protagonist simply gives into the expediency of his emotions and is then forced to experience the tragic consequences. The novel serves as a reminder that we are ultimately judged by the results of our actions and very little quarter is given for our reasons, be they selfless or self-serving.

In parallel to this main theme, the b
John Spillane
Man this was brutal. I don't think I've been this gutted since Less Than Zero, a couple passages there are really disturbing and believable; this is more just shattering of of your conceptions of what love turns into with time as well as an interesting lens on death. I can't think of a friend that I would recommend this to because people rattle off Catholic guilt so quickly that it terminates what could be a really interesting conversation,and because you probably either enjoy Greene's atmospher ...more
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 27, 2014 edition of The Monitor

Graham Greene is best known as both having abandoned agnosticism as an adult to convert to Catholicism and as having, perhaps better than any other British author, married critically acclaimed literary writing with mass popularity. Most modern Americans will know him the many film adaptations of his work.

Most characteristic of Greene’s writing is the internal, spiritual struggles of characters in inhospitable and
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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 about Graham Greene...
The Quiet American The End of the Affair The Power and the Glory Our Man in Havana Brighton Rock

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“Of two hearts one is always warm and one is always cold: the cold heart is more precious than diamonds: the warm heart has no value and is thrown away.” 96 likes
“Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, selfishness, evil -- or else an absolute ignorance.” 92 likes
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