Ben's Reviews > The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
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Aug 03, 2009

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bookshelves: read-in-2009, religion-spirituality, darkness, memorable-characters
Read in August, 2009

My first Graham Greene novel was The End of the Affair and it rocked my world, and affected me in some profound ways. It was the perfect novel for me at the time, and I am forever indebted to Mr. Greene for giving me that enlightening experience.

Going into this, I knew better than to expect the same magnitude of visceral reaction that I had with The End of the Affair, but nonetheless, because the connection I had with the aforementioned was so strong, I couldn't help but have decently high expectations.

So, were my expectations met?

You're thinking, "Three stars, of course not." And of course you're right in a sense.

But you're also wrong, because I'm not the least bit disappointed in the writing; it's amazing. In our discussion group, Megha brought up the point that she couldn't imagine someone giving this book less than three stars because of the writing. I couldn't agree more. And as goodreaders constantly prove that the world isn't full of idiots after all, I found that only 4% of those having rated this gave it 2 stars, and a rounded-down 0% gave it 1 star. That makes sense.

The story's nuances, the human complexities of the protagonist Whisky Priest, and the novel's complex questions of morality should satisfy most of the intellectually hungry. On a cerebral level, this novel does not disappoint. While The End of the Affair is an existential kick in the nuts, this is an ongoing observation; a thought process with rewards for the careful reader. The setting of scorching hot, desolate Mexico is descriptive and engrossing, and the storyline is complex enough and sensitive enough to the human condition, to rightly be considered as a possible masterpiece.

Yet, as is often the case with fiction, whether something speaks to your gut or not, may come down to a string of subjective and perhaps only loosely definable reasons; some (or even all) of which, you don't fully comprehend.

And, for whatever reason(s), this novel didn't speak to me. While I appreciated the nuances and very-human elements involved with the Whisky Priest, I just couldn't get myself to feel for his plight.

So, how could I identify more with a self obsessive, hardened hater such as Maurice Bendrix from The End of the Affair, than a well-meaning, soft hearted, guilt-feeling, conscience-carrying priest?

Subjective, personal, psychological reasons, I assume. One off the top of my head is that my struggles of faith are more similar to the struggles that Maurice and Sarah had, than those had by this here, protagonist. I don't recall the Whisky Priest ever questioning the existence of God; most of his struggles were in the context of doctrine, or with forgiveness and grace, instead. I relate more to the back and fourth between belief and unbelief; the constant questioning of faith that took place in The End of the Affair.

If I have one important, reasoned qualm with this book, it's this: Beyond the Whisky Priest, few characters are developed enough. It's rare that I say a book is too short, but I think I would have gotten more out of this had Greene developed the other main characters with the thorough, insightful precision I know he's capable of.

Nonetheless, this is a well-written novel that should result in your appreciation, even if it doesn't speak to you.
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Reading Progress

07/27/2009 page 62

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim *High five*

I don't feel so alone now. Tick Tock... get moving on that review, Benny Boy. :)

message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben : )

dara Not as impressive as The End of the Affair for you either, eh?

message 4: by Ben (last edited Aug 03, 2009 10:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Yup, didn't come close to having the same affect on me, Ofmatt. Is there another Greene that you suggest I try next?

message 5: by dara (last edited Aug 03, 2009 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

dara I'm still searching for one that will hit me as hard as The End of the Affair. The Heart of the Matter was the first of his books I read and I found it was an enjoyable read, but I actually feel like I should read it over again to see if I would enjoy it more now that I have a soft spot, so to speak, for Greene. But the ending of it didn't strike me as realistic enough at the time.

I read The Tenth Man afterwards, and it was a very quick, enjoyable read (less than 200 pages). It's completely different, and the story behind it is interesting in itself. From what I remember, Greene had written it for a film and then completely forgot about it so it wasn't published until over thirty years later.

I think your review is spot on though. There's no faulting Graham's writing, but some characters and subjects just don't have that emotional impact.

I bought Brighton Rock so I suppose I'll tackle that eventually but it'll probably be awhile. I'm having a time keeping myself from returning to a complete state of illiteracy so it's a delicate balance of what to read next.

I noticed you have Of Human Bondage on your To-Read-Soon list. I can't recommend any more Greene at the moment, but I do recommend pushing Maugham up on your list. My boyfriend introduced me to his writing and every time I start one of his books I'm amazed at how quickly I'm drawn into them. Of Human Bondage is a great introduction, but actually, if you can find it, I highly recommend Christmas Holiday. It only focuses on a short period of time and a few characters, but every character appealed to me for different reasons. The title made me worry it would be something overly sentimental, but it's just the opposite. It's about someone's view of the world just falling apart. The Razor's Edge is great too, but there's a section where it delves into religion too unfamiliar to me and it detracted from my experience as a whole, though only slightly. From my exposure so far you probably couldn't go wrong with any of his novels though.

message 6: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Go, Team Affair!

Subjective, personal, psychological reasons, I assume. One off the top of my head is that my struggles of faith are more similar to the struggles that Maurice and Sarah had, than those had by this here, protagonist.

You got it. I agree. Plus, like I said, I still feel the priest had an agenda. And his guilt wasn't nearly strong enough for him to refuse the help of the Lehr's. Sure, he questioned his ease of sliding back into that smug life he used to have, but that's about it. Sure, he decided to meet his fate, but I still didn't feel the anger or the contentment (whichever way you want to see it) with his decision. In the beginning when he's upset that the mother has called on him and he's missed his boat and you see how wretched he is.. .that works, but we don't KNOW him yet, you know?

Eh. Give me Maurice Bendrix and his 'I hate that You exist' mumblings any day.

message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim I agree with Ofmatt and Of Human Bondage, Ben.. you should read that one. :)

message 8: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2009 04:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben You're right Kim, I know it sounds odd, but while I found the priest to be human, I didn't find him to be geniune. Does that make sense?

Of Human Bondage has now been upped in the queue. Thanks you two!

message 9: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony I haven't read Maugham in years, but I remember liking his work. I also remember Bill Murray as doing a strong and forgotten good job in the film version of The Razor's Edge.

And great review, sir...looks like I'm jumpin' on this book's bandwagon...

message 10: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2009 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Thanks RA. Even if it's a while before you get around to reading this, it'd still be great if you could join our group and share your thoughts when you do. Here you go:

message 11: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Kim wrote: "I agree with Ofmatt and Of Human Bondage, Ben.. you should read that one. :)"

I loved "Of Human Bondage" as well. I gave it five stars because I remember it really getting to me when I read it. I need to re-read it, for sure. Once that is done, I may add it to my silver shelf if I keep the five star rating.

Razor's Edge sounds great too, for me. Thanks Ofmatt.

message 12: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Russell I agree with Kim's agreeing with Ofmatt's recommendation of Of Human Bondage. I said in my review of Affair that it reminded me of Maugham's book in it's precise description of obsessive love.

message 13: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Ha, I disagree with just about everything in this review and thread! How interesting.

message 14: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Oh wait - except for the stuff about Of Human Bondage, which I haven't read.

message 15: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2009 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Oh, Choupette. : ) I think there's a difference between disagreeing and having a different experience. You may argue against my statement about the lack of development of the characters, but aside from that, it's just subjective experience, ya' know? For example, despite you liking this a lot more than I, I still appreciated it and, by the way, happened to really like your review, despite our different levels of engagment with the novel. ; )

message 16: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben But I still don't really like the Whiskey Priest ; )

message 17: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Ben wrote: "Oh, Choupette. : ) I think there's a difference between disagreeing and having a different experience.

I suppose so...

Actually I agree with you about the lack of development of the characters, but I guess it just worked for me :)

message 18: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2009 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben And no matter how often our reading experiences differ, we'll always have The Unbearable Lightness of Being to fall back upon. I fuckin' love that book.

message 19: by dara (new) - rated it 4 stars

dara Have you read any of Kundera's short stories? My first exposure to him was "The Hitchiking Game," which is probably still my favorite short story ever. (I believe I read it first in My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, which is a really solid collection, but of course, it's also in Laughable Loves.)

Stephen Good review, Ben. Very honest and I think generous to Greene. I find Greene very disagreeable as a writer. Still, I'm reading this book with an eagle eye, not to destroy it, but to find all that symbolism that Greene loves to hide in things.

message 21: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Ofmatt, I just added Laughable Loves to my "to read" shelf. Kundera's writing seems very well-suited for the short story format, and seeing that you gave it 5 stars I think I'm gonna have to pick that up soon. Thank you!

Stephen: Thank you, sir. What is it about Greene's writing that you find disagreeable? I like his writing.

Stephen Aristocratic arrogance? Oh, Ben, why dost thou cause me to think upon my reasons? lol It's visceral. I promise to examine my reasons more closely.

message 23: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben What have you read from him?

Stephen The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana

As I said, Ben, it's a visceral thing. I am enjoying The Power and the Glory, and a large part of my Greene problem could be when I read the books, and that stage of my life. There was a point in my life where his Bipolar aristocratic voice just drove me crazy. Perhaps I should reread.

Ben Harrison is
A challenger of dislikes
I am caught by thought.

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