Eoghan's Reviews > The Human Factor

The Human Factor by Graham Greene
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Dec 11, 08

bookshelves: folio-society
Read in November, 2008

Late Graham Greene...he's never a writer who gives a strong sense of place but he seems more uncomfortable than usual in the milieu of seventies Soho, and much of the action takes place in gentlemen's clubs that must already have been relics when he was writing the book. A while ago I read a comment somewhere to the effect that Greene initiated a kind of professionalisation of the literary novel (I am probably garbling it hopelessly) which I take to mean that he substituted a craftsman's proficiency for the vaulting ambition of the artist. His prose is polished to a gleam, he supplies the requisite moral ambiguity, but does his work have the scope of take the risks to say something deep or penetrating about life?

Even if it is the case that he is the father of the lack of ambition that seems to afflict modern novelists, The Human Factor is an excellent sabotage of the Ian Fleming myth of the spy, offering instead the civil service mundanity of most intelligence work. In some respects it reminded me of John Banville's fictionalised version of Anthony Blunt's life - The Untouchable. In other respects it's a morose counterpart to Our Man In Havana, but either way, it's among the best of Greene's novels.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Five stars for the book, or the writing?


Eoghan For the writing, obviously...I haven't quite reached the point of total insanity where I start rating books based on the bouquet of the ink and the luxurious quality of the paper. Will review in more detail if I can snatch five minutes at work.


message 3: by Simon (new)

Simon I began to think that Willian Boyd was a living version of GG, but the more I read of WB, the more I find he's a bit lighter, more fun, more human, esp Any Human Heart, Brazaville Beach. I still love GG v much but I have found his books a bit hit and miss, generally working with the same big themes of good and evil, and personal characters struggle within that - but sometimes it worked really well, Quiet American, and sometimes it just didn't - A Burnt Out case. I'm trying to get hold of one his autobiographies either 'A sort of life' or the other one.


Eoghan I would have said there was something very human about the way Greene's characters spend so much time trying to find solid moral footing and ultimately discovering that it isn't there to be had. I agree he does return to the same themes over and again, but so do most novelists, and it is at least a theme that bears lengthy investigation.

You might consider reading Graham Greene: A Life in Letters if you can't track down the autobiographies - I had a flick through it downstairs and I'll probably read it once I'm finished the Atwood.


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