A leak is traced to a small sub-section of SIS, sparking off the inevitable security checks, tensions and suspicions. The sort of atmosphere where mistakes could be made? For Maurice Castle it is the end of the line anyway and time for him to retire with his African wife, Sarah.
The Human Factor is Greene’s most extensive attempt to incorporate into fiction what he had learned of espionage when recruited by MI6 during World War II . . . What it offers is a veteran excursion into Greene’s imaginative world . . . Sometimes seen as a brooding prober into the dark recesses of the soul where sins and scruples alike fester, he is equally at home in sending a narrative careering along at break-neck pace . . . Raising the demarcation line between ‘serious’ fiction and fast-plotted entertainment, Greene ensures that components of both jostle energizingly together in his pages.” –from the Introduction by Peter Kemp --
Particularly known novels, such as The Power and the Glory (1940), of British writer Henry Graham Greene reflect his ardent Catholic beliefs.
The Order of Merit and the Companions of Honour inducted this English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer, and critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.
Credo che per me si tratti della quinta rilettura, tra lingua originale e traduzione: è palese che questo libro di Greene mi piace, che lo prendo e riprendo per la certezza che mi farà passare qualche ora di buona sana lettura, che mi confermerà la sua qualità.
Una spy story ambientata all’interno dei servizi segreti britannici durante la guerra fredda che non potrebbe essere più lontana da James Bond: non si vedono armi, l’azione è ridotta al minimo, la trama, per quanto funzionante e strutturata, ruota intorno ai personaggi, alla loro personalità, alle differenze di carattere.
Il film diretto da Otto Preminger è del 1979. Nel cast anche tre Sir (titolo onorifico assegnato dalla Corona), i primi due ormai defunti: Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi.
Uno degli aspetti più affascinanti di questo romanzo secondo me risiede nelle intenzioni che portarono Greene a scriverlo: il desiderio di mettere in piedi una vicenda di spionaggio senza violenza, azione adrenalinica, bellissime donne doppiogiochiste e altri cliché, dove invece il mestiere di spia non ha nulla di romantico o elettrizzante e non costringe a tour de force in palestra (alcuni di questi agenti hanno sicuramente la pancia), è routine quotidiana, il lavoro di tutti i giorni che porterà alla pensione, come quello di un impiegato di banca o di un dirigente d’azienda. Al confronto del quale, le vite private dei personaggi, le loro abitudini, il loro ritratto, sono molto più importanti: vivere una vita umana anche se si lavora in un ambiente disumano nel quale le persone sono solo pedine di un gioco irrazionale e senza senso. [Questa è probabilmente stata l’esperienza personale dello stesso Greene nei suoi anni di lavoro per i servizi segreti britannici in Africa durante la seconda guerra mondiale.]
Nicol Williamson nella parte del protagonista Maurice Castle. Williamson, mai una star, è stato un divertente Little John in “Robin e Marian”, un ottimo Merlino in “Excalibur” e un efficace Sherlock Holmes in “Soluzione 7%”. In questa foto è accanto a Iman, vedova di David Bowie, che interpreta sua moglie Sarah.
Ma è anche, e forse, soprattutto, una storia d’amore, l’amore del protagonista Maurice Castle per sua moglie Sarah, una bantu di cui si è innamorato nei suoi anni di Sudafrica: l’amore, in quest’opera, è ritratto come una forza carica di potenziale pericolo – Castle scappa dal Sudafrica per amore, per salvare Sara dalla polizia bianca, ritorna a casa a Londra e genera la storia qui raccontata ancora una volta per l’amore verso la sua donna. Un uomo innamorato è come un anarchico armato di una bomba a orologeria, si dice da qualche parte in queste pagine.
Data questa premessa, è piuttosto un peccato che l’oggetto dell’amore di Castle rimanga una figura non sviluppata: essere africana nera e madre di Sam sono le sue caratteristiche principali, più stereotipi che aspetti di una personalità definita. A volte mi domando se tu mi ami solo per il colore della mia pelle, dice Sarah, ed è una domanda che mi faccio anch’io lettore.
Graham Greene è sepolto a Corsier-sur-Vevey in Svizzera, dove è morto nel 1991. Nello stesso cimitero è sepolto anche Charlie Chaplin.
Però, forse l’aspetto vincente per me, è il registro adottato, all’insegna della sfumatura e dell’ambiguità: bene e male non sono capisaldi, la distanza fra loro è incerta, doppie identità e doppi significati, Maurice agisce per interesse personale o per un ideale, chi è parte della soluzione e chi parte del problema, vincerà la democrazia occidentale o il comunismo, l’amore ce la farà o sarà sconfitto… Il finale è un trionfo dell’assenza di certezza.
Graham Greene beveva uno o più Martini anche prima di pranzo. Ideò la sua personale versione del celebre cocktail, che prese il suo nome, nato all’Hotel Metropole di Hanoi nel 1951 quando Greene era corrispondente per il Paris Match: un classico Martini Dry con un tocco di Crème de Cassis.
More than his superior novels, THE HUMAN FACTOR demonstrates Greene's confounding ability to compel readers to turn pages. Though nothing much was going on and the plot was nearly entirely predictable, I flew through. It shares more with John Le Carre than other Greenes that I've read, save for a few flourishes at the edges (when our lead, Castle, enters a Catholic Church toward the end of the novel it was a bit like McCartney playing the opening of Hey Jude).
What we have: a spycraft novel with extremely little spycraft and a ton of psychology; one twist that is obligatory; one twist that is good but too minor; an increasing nastiness as the book goes along; a plot that happened years before the novel that is not gotten into and more interesting than what we do have; an interesting coda from Castle's wife perspective; some good writing on race in England and some not so good; an interesting character from South Africa; a gun in the first act that goes off in the third; way too many trout jokes.
I was very into this at the start but as the bleakness set in (literally all these characters are depressed, which is something I haven't seen before), it became very gray. I read it in two days, and was happy for the first and pulled along through kinetics alone on the second.
Written in his 74th year, Greene delivers a devastating masterpiece about the bureaucratic intrigues and the human relationships within the British secret service. The Human Factor is a bleak and serious thriller in which the Africa division of the British secret service is suspected of having a leak. The few personnel in the division are watched and interviewed. Conclusions are drawn too quickly. A new and ingenious method is used to kill the suspected leak. But the real leak could still be at large. This is not one of Greene's entertainments. This is a really heavy book. I had to work really hard on it even though it was only 259 pages long. It is not one of those thrillers which you can tear through. I also believe a scene from this novel was later revised as a short story called The News in English that appeared in The Last Word and Other Stories.
The atmosphere created by Greene can be compared to the one in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Every page is heavy with an air of resignation, tension and barely contained despair. The diabolical jobs of the secret agents affects not just them, but also their families.
Like a magician with many tricks, Greene piles it on with literary references (I have not read Clarissa, War and Peace, Robinson Crusoe and Trollope) to underscore the inner lives of the characters. At times, these tortured secret agents use these books as crutches and even guides to their future.
I found Maurice Castle, the protagonist to be similar to Major Scobie from The Heart of the Matter. Both are weighed down by their familial responsibilities, a deep sense of guilt and limited possibilities for the future.
The fragile nature of race relations like the one between Castle and his African son Sam is portrayed in a grave manner by Greene. There are no easy solutions. Some things are inevitable.
The African political situation and the battle between the powers that be to grab African resources is one of the novels sub-plots. It went completely over my head.
"The hall was empty; so seemed the sitting-room, which he could see through the open door: there was not a sound from the kitchen. He noticed at once that the whisky bottle was not standing ready by the syphon on the sideboard. The habit of years had been broken and Castle felt anxiety like the prick of an insect."
"The service was nearly at an end and the congregation of the well-dressed, the middle-aged and the old were standing at attention, as they sang with a kind of defiance as though they inwardly doubted the facts ....."
This is the kind of book that can make you an alcoholic. I think late in his life, Greene feared that he would be denied alcohol as he watched with resignation the decline of Christianity. These are two recurring themes in every single novel of his, no matter where they are set. Alcohol and Christianity. In the absence of "consoling beacon-fires of the ancient hope" (from Huysmans), Black and White whisky is the last refuge of 20th century man.
"You always had an exaggerated sense of gratitude for the least kindness." - Castle's mother tells him. It is almost as if Greene upped his game a few notches in his seventies. The book is filled with such memorable lines that leaves you gulping. Much of 20th century English literature reads like suicide notes. The Human Factor is a prime example.
The Human Factor is not, in my opinion, one of the great Graham Greene novels, but it is a good one, written when he was in his seventies, drawing (like John le Carré) on his experience working for British counter-intelligence, and as with le Carré, part of his explicit attempt to reflect what it was really like to work for the agency. They wanted, in a sense, to counter the public perception put forth by Ian Fleming with his sensational James Bond enterprise.
Greene was "to write a novel of espionage free from the conventional violence, which has not, in spite of James Bond, been a feature of the British Secret Service,” he said, “the Service to be seen unromantically as a way of life, men going daily to their office to earn their pensions." There are in this book several gentle jabs made by characters about Bond. And it gets at something darker, too, something that corrodes the souls of those working there, the living in secrecy, the lack of trust, the the constant surveillance.
I am not sure at this point who might still be reading one of Greene’s later novels, but I should nevertheless still say this is a spoiler, though even the dust jacket alludes to it: The big secret of this story, which begins with Bond and trout jokes and a lame watch dog named Buller, is that Maurice Castle, the central character and well into his sixties, has become a Soviet double agent, somewhat like Greene’s former boss, Kim Philby, who also became a Soviet double agent. So after a pretty slow and relatively light (for Greene) first half of the book, we do get to intrigue—as it would with Greene—though that intrigue leads to greater isolation and misery for almost all concerned. If you thought you wanted to be a secret agent, think again, in other words.
“One can't reason away regret—it's a bit like falling in love, falling into regret.”
Greene isn’t fundamentally a political writer, though some of his writing includes embedded political critiques, such as The Quiet American and its commentary on American involvement in Vietnam; primarily he’s about the soul and if the politics in the books lead to anything, its their damaging effects on individuals. In this one Castle is married to Sarah, a black South African; the double agent work he does is to (he thinks) help bring down Apartheid. Greene’s book helps to expose the West’s hypocritical stance of that regime against Apartheid, who were then not sure it wanted black South Africa, or especially Communists such as Mandela, to rule.
“Heroism began where politics stopped.”
My rating of four stars here obscures how much better I think books like The Power and The Glory and The End of the Affair are from him. Maybe given that comparison this is really a three star book, but compared to most books, this is a four star book, and I finally liked it and Castle and his love for Sarah and her son Sam. I like the way Greene works in Castle’s reading of War and Peace and Robinson Crusoe into it.
3.5/5 Δεν θεωρώ πως είναι από τις κορυφαίες στιγμές του αγαπημένου αυτού συγγραφέα. Τούτο δεν σημαίνει ότι η αναγνωστική απόλαυση είναι μικρότερη, απλά η σύγκριση με κάποια άλλα συγκλονιστικά βιβλία του με άφησε ελαφρώς ανικανοποίητο. Η βαθμολογία θα ήταν χαμηλότερη, αν το πικρό και απαισιόδοξο τέλος δεν έδινε μια τελική ώθηση προς τα επάνω.
I was diving into the occult and ruthless world of secret agents, which are sometimes double ones. Solitary in the heart of the Organization, the secret agent evolves in troubled water, in an opaque universe, heavy with mistrust and suspicion: the colleague who seems the most harmless and inspires you the most sympathy will not prove he's not the traitor or your worst enemy? "The human factor" is an actual novel of atmosphere but, for me, reading is a little tricky due to the bitterness of the subject. Is not Graham Greene one of those great writers unfairly forgotten?
A very enjoyable Graham Greene novel of espionage in the British secret service. There are plenty of plot outlines in other reviews, and hard not to offer spoilers to what is a fairly slow moving and sedate story. No car chases, no shootouts or airport arrests. Lots of SIS administration, phone calls from public phone boxes, and dead-letter drops.
Greene, with his background in MI6 during WWII brings to the novel the realism of how espionage works - none of the James Bond fiction here. Lots of bureaucracy, paperwork and process; double agents provide scraps of information and are inevitably not aware of how or why they are being used.
The writing is excellent, with Greene controlling the pace and tension being layered on as the story unwinds. Pressure is ramped on as noose tightens around the double agent. There is a bleakness to the novel, a level of resignation to being caught then killed or imprisoned. The men in the SIS are all flawed, portrayed as sad or lonely - one interested only in fishing; with another we see the increased distance from his daughter and the distaste with which his ex-wife views him; another who drinks heavily and longs for a relationship with his secretary.
The novel mostly though examines morality, loyalty and responsibility - and how they balance to justify actions. All set in a bleak, grey, British background of the 1970s.
It took me about 80 pages to realize I was right to continue to read this. If I wasn't already familiar with Greene, I probably would've put it down at some point before those 80 pages, thinking this book was not my thing. But it deserves patience, as Greene is setting you up (necessary for the story) and by the time you're set up, you're hooked.
This novel is a mastery of dialogue. I can't remember the last time a book told me so much, and did it so well, with dialogue, not just in advancing the plot, but, more importantly, in differentiating and developing each character by what was said.
I also enjoyed the literary references (of books the characters were reading, or not reading), even if I haven't read Trollope's The Way We Live Now. The only criticism I have is that Greene employed quite a few clunky similes, though in the long run they are forgivable.
P.S. The day after I finished this book, I found myself missing Maurice Castle (the main character).
The Human Factor (1978) – by Graham Greene is set in the British secret service, but…this is certainly no James Bond 007 story; there is no glamour to be found here; this is all about a bleak troubled life of keeping secrets, a life of internalised silence and deception. But – above all else and as the title would suggest, it’s about the Human Factor, the human element and side to an individual living a life, a domestic life in tandem with the secret life of an agent – it’s about the secrecy and the almost crushing and perpetual silence.
There is life and love here and as so often with Greene, there is whiskey, Catholicism, death, atheism and Africa – in various measures; but there is also much here about the endless pressure and destruction delivered by a covert existence on an overt life.
There is also much comment here about the concept of what it actually means to be a traitor – to whom, to what? What does it really mean to be loyal to your country? And what of the futility of having a ‘cause’ and the often absurd and ridiculous nature of the ‘game’ of espionage?
Whilst this may not be classic Greene and is not up there with his meisterwerks (Heart of the Matter, Power and the Glory, End of the Affair, Quiet Man et al) – nevertheless, The Human Factor is an excellent book, a great but bleak story well told. It is an intelligent slow burner with the tension mounting throughout – definitely not to be overlooked.
Il fattore umano potrei definirlo come la narrazione del dramma umano vissuto da un agente 007 inglese, Maurice Castle, che giorno dopo giorno vede intorno a lui farsi il vuoto, una storia di spionaggio e controspionaggio, accompagnata da una robusta dose di J & B, a pranzo, nel pomeriggio e dopo cena. Ma credo che il romanzo sia più di quanto sopra detto: è un libro che parla di amore, di tradimento, di lealtà e slealtà e di quanto siano opinabili. Per questo il titolo, il fattore umano gioca la sua parte nel mondo dei servizi segreti fatti di spie con gli occhi di ghiaccio alla James Bond. P.S.: l'unica cosa che non ho gradito è stata la sorte del povero Buller....
In Greene l’essenzialità non inficia la capacità di coinvolgere il lettore in un modo quasi cinematografico. La scrittura è appropriata, chiara, sintetica e ricca al tempo stesso. Sono rimasto impressionato dalla prima parte del libro, era impensabile che Greene potesse mantenere quella fluidità fino in fondo, non c’è riuscito, ma quando il suo protagonista si è rivelato per quello che era e non per quello che aveva fatto credere di essere, il passaggio è stato naturale, senza strappi, senza necessità di giustificazioni. Il Fattore umano è una spy story e lo spionaggio è un argomento che si presta bene al romanzesco, Javier Marìas lo confermerebbe, salvo poi impostare la storia in tutt’altro modo. Ne “Il fattore umano” non si soffre dello schiacciamento a cui si è sottoposti leggendo “Berta Isla”, non ci si deve adattare alle numerose contorsioni di colui che ci avviluppa scrivendo. Il fattore umano è un romanzo che si legge con facilità, che trascina avanti che non spinge a tornare sui propri passi per capire perché si sia arrivati a quel punto. Greene fu reclutato dai Servizi segreti britannici, ha attinto dalla propria esperienza per scrivere il libro, così come ha sfruttato i viaggi in America centrale ed in Africa per sbozzarne altri. Mi piace trovare i libri dentro ai libri, Greene fa leggere al protagonista “Guerra e Pace”, “Il modo in cui viviamo oggi“ e “Robinson Crusoe”, gli fa citare Browing completando un filotto di opere che non ho letto. Proprio di Browing sarebbe il verso che Greene sceglierebbe come epigrafe per tutti i suoi romanzi: «A noi preme soltanto il bordo vertiginoso delle cose». Lo scrittore più citato del libro però è un tale vigoroso, amaro, spesso doppio (giochista), loquace, le cui iniziali sono JB.
C’è più whisky in questo libro di quanto qualsiasi latino potrebbe bere. Il whiskey è un vero e proprio rituale, non importa se a casa o al bar, da soli o in compagnia, liscio, on the rocks, doppio, allungato… è una costante che non si interrompe neppure quando i sudditi di sua Maestà si spostano all’estero. Una bella storia segreta di amore e riconoscenza che Greene lega insieme in questo aforisma: La gratitudine, come l’amore, ha bisogno di essere alimentata ogni giorno, altrimenti finisce per spegnersi
I loved reading this - I had the impression that Greene is always about spies, the cold war and agents in foreign lands etc. so I was surprised to find that this is essentially a love story. Not high drama and deep passion, but the kind of love that exists between a couple who care about their life together. Yes our main character Maurice Castle works for the secret service - he along with his colleague, Davis process information from East and South Africa. (Davis is a lonely man, in love with their secretary, Cynthia - who is not impressed with his lowly clerk's position).
The story involves various high level characters - in Government, who make decisions based on flimsy or in fact zero evidence about the trustworthiness of their lower colleagues - with disastrous results. The sinister Doctor Percival has access to research work at Porton Down - which pertains to methods of chemical warfare. He suggests to Sir John Hargreaves - C, head of the Foreign Office, that the "leak" could be eliminated with Aflatoxin - a highly toxic substance that will look as if the person has died from liver failure.
And so Greene's plot - a story to uncover the double agent working for MI6 reflects on British social history - referring to the Reform Act of 1832 - when for the first time Parliament accepted the right of the 'commoner' to have a say in politics. If I remember - it was individuals with property or business with a value of over 10,000 pounds - men, not women, who for the first time - represented the people in British Government. Greene uses this piece of history to emphasize that very little has changed - the landed class - the toffs in the House of Lords still hold sway in post WWII UK.
Colonel Daintry, however, represents the new order. He is the 'broom', brought in to sniff out the spy. He has no social class but a highly defined sense of moral responsibility. He feels it is his duty to report back to HQ his meeting with Castle, but does so reluctantly having discovered that Castle is someone he likes and respects.
And so the plot thickens - this is no simple spy story, but a deeply reflective work asking us to consider our moral values. Castle is the traitor, but he is a man who holds our deepest sympathy. The ending I felt did not hold out any hope for the future of the couple, who are now separated. Castle is in Moscow; and his wife, Sarah in England. The irony here is that she is a refugee from the apartheid regime in South Africa - which is where they first meet.
This backstory about Castle and Sarah - is if you like a comparison of the enlightened and liberal UK with South Africa - at the height of its repression of black people in the 60s and 70s. Sarah is offered freedom via her relationship with Castle - who arranges for her escape to England. He is responsible for her welfare as initially their connection is based on her working for him as a sub-agent.
At the end of the current story Sarah cannot leave England to join Castle in Moscow because her child Sam does not have a passport, and she has been warned by the FO, that they will not give her this document.
Possibly one of the best books I have ever read.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Graham Greene's 1979 spy novel is a far cry from the glamorous world of James Bond. There may not be any car chases or gadgets, but there are some excellenetly drawn characters and Greene's narrative keeps the reader hooked right to the end. Greene perfectly balances the humorous moments (like discussing Smarties & Malteesers) with the darker side of the story. In one chapter two men are enjoying a meal at a London club while cold bloodedly talking about an assassination as if they were chatting about the weather. On the whole The Human Factor may be a fairly depessing novel, but Graham Greene is a master storyteller & you believe that every one of his characters is a real person instead of fictional one. A truly great writer, though one perhaps now sadly forgotten by many people.
I thoroughly enjoyed this; it was subtle and compelling without the spy chases, weapons and car chases.
Castle and Davis work in the African section of MI6 and life is rather pedestrian. And within this rather dead-end office at the "Foreign Office" we see the men's, and other characters, personalities unfold with their worries, doubts, wishes and paranoias coming to the fore in behaviour, thoughts and speech. The Human Factor does have a "love interest", but this is not the James Bond girl, but a wholly different setting and a centrepiece of the story. It is also something quite interesting in the author's portrayl of the two main characters' past lives, experiences and connections, as well as the other characters interactions and prejudices with and of them.
Written with Graham Greene's expert prose and eye for a story - using his own MI6 experience - this is one of my favourites by this adaptable and readable writers.
Ora lo so dopo avere letto tre libri di Greene (mi sembra un numero sufficiente) posso affermare con certezza che è diventato uno dei miei autori preferiti, lo amo. Amo soprattutto i suoi personaggi quelli maschili, perché le donne rimangono sempre un po’ più sullo sfondo delle sue storie. I suoi personaggi sono uomini virili, non nel senso sessuale, ma virili perché fermi nei loro propositi, inflessibili, rocce ma con un cuore di burro dolcissimo che nasconde il loro tormento interiore, che sia sentimentale o di fede, o morale che sta lì a dilaniare le loro vite. Il fattore umano è un libro di spionaggio, anzi di controspionaggio, non sono per nulla esperta del genere, anzi è proprio un genere che in genere non mi si confà, ma mai dire mai e infatti… C’è Maurice Castle, il protagonista, che lavora per i servizi segreti britannici, la sua sezione si occupa dell’Africa, ha vissuto per molti anni in Sudafrica (che è il paese forse meno africano di tutto il continente) e ne conosce a fondo dinamiche politiche e segrete, ma laggiù in quell’estremo sud Castle ha avuto dei guai… Innamorarsi è un guaio? Non li chiamerei guai. Mi ero innamorato.Già, già, vedo. Di una ragazza africana. Una bantu, come dicono gli afrikaner senza fare distinzioni. Lei aveva violato le loro leggi razziali Si è innamorato di una collega, nera, che per motivazioni politiche viene a trovarsi in pericolo, Castle l’aiuta a fuggire dal suo paese per poi portarla in Inghilterra e sposarla. Ad un certo punto nella sezione londinese dove Castle lavora emerge una pericolosa fuga di informazioni, chi di dovere ha il compito di verificare dove stia la falla, chi sia il traditore a condurre lo sporco doppio gioco. In tutto il romanzo, i colpi di scena sono rari, non ci sono lame che escono da stilografiche, nè pistole d’oro, né rostri che lievitano dai cerchioni luccicanti di Ferrari tirate a forte velocità, insomma dimenticarsi James Bond. E’ quasi un controspionaggio da camera (nel perfetto stile di Greene) molto pacatamente british, agenti segreti quasi burocrati di ufficio che traducono o crittografano telegrammi in codice, o che usano Guerra e Pace come un cifrario dove scrivere un rapporto segreto, eppure l’estro di Greene riesce a creare una tensione in accumulo sotto la superficie di eventi ripetuti, ci fa percepire il dilemma di un uomo che è consapevole di tradire, ma per un motivo nobilissimo, come un paladino franco. Brutta vita quella dell’agente segreto che fa controspionaggio, sempre a guardarsi le spalle, cui non è permesso nemmeno per un attimo deporre il fardello della segretezza, immerso nella solitudine di quello che sa e che non può condividere, con nessuno. Una figura professionale che si carica di un peccato vecchio come il mondo: il tradimento che diventa il suo modus vivendi, viene addirittura pagato per tradire e perpetuare il tradimento, ma chi tradisce merita di essere eliminato senza nemmeno passare attraverso un processo, senza scalpore né pubblicità deve solo scomparire, non essere mai esistito. Be’, sono quel che si dice un traditore.» «E allora?» Mise la mano nella sua; fu un gesto più intimo di un bacio: anche a un estraneo si può dare un bacio. Disse: «Tu, io e Sam siamo il tuo Paese. E questo non lo hai mai tradito, Maurice». «Non serve angustiarci oltre, per stasera» disse Castle. «C’è ancora tempo, e abbiamo bisogno di riposare.» Ma quando furono a letto, fecero immediatamente l’amore, senza pensarci, senza dirselo, come se l’avessero deciso insieme un’ora prima e tutti quei discorsi non avessero fatto altro che rimandare il momento. Da mesi non lo facevano così intensamente. Adesso che il segreto era stato rivelato, l’amore poteva esprimersi
Per ultimo il titolo bellissimo quel fattore umano che si insinua negli eventi e li disfa come neve al sole, la componente umana che fa la differenza nelle cose.
a novel of spies and of pawns and of the interchangeability of those roles. the tale is deceptively simple and straightforward; the mixed loyalties of the protagonist and the portrait of his relationship with his african wife are sweetly affecting and pleasingly non-dramatic....but all of this is, in a way, a cover for the bleakly mordant commentary on betrayal that lies at the novel's heart. reading Human Factor made me understand how the works of le carre will always be superior to the works of fleming, and yet will often be half the fun. dismantling the myth of the sexy super spy, and using that deconstruction as an extended metaphor for the dangers of empathy....it is an educational but often depressing experience.
I read this a very long time ago, but I still remember I found that - together with The Quiet American - this is one of the best novels Greene ever wrote. What struck me was the balanced and deeply human characterization of the protagonists, as a contrast to the inhumanity of the secret service (yes, again this is a spy novel). In addition, Greene offers a beautiful mixture of all kinds of his favorite themes: conscience, guilt, patriotism, loyalty, humanity and, of course, love. Perhaps because this was one of the last novels he wrote (in his seventies), these themes are processed with more subtility than in his earlier work! (3.5 stars)
No, I’m not going to say how many tears of boredom I shed while introducing myself to the writing of such widely beloved author.
What do I know, anyway?
Let’s just say that (once again) I was just hallucinating and this wasn’t actually terribly convoluted, dated, contrived, predictable and populated with cardboard cutout style characters having completely unrealistic conversations.
As the saying goes; if you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing.
"A man in love walks through the world like an anarchist, carrying a time bomb"
What a read. Talk about bleak. I really loved it though. An extraordinary achievement. Both tense and exciting, but also an exploration of the dark arts of espionage, human psychology, and individual relationships. All the characters are credible, fully fleshed out, and fallible.
The issues Graham Greene raises in The Human Factor (1978) are quite complex and perhaps, ultimately, it's most about individual vulnerability, especially when pitted against greater forces.
Greene pulls off quite a feat here, The Human Factor is gritty and suspenseful, but also extremely subtle and thought provoking. There are also some brilliant set pieces too, which make me wonder about the film adaptation. I look forward to discovering how Otto Preminger, who directed the 1979 adaptation, evoked, for example, the stiflingly chic Chelsea wedding reception complete with hundreds of china owls, or the appalling attempt at nightlife camaraderie among Service colleagues down at The Raymond Revue Bar in London's Soho.
Apparently Graham Greene drew on his own experience in MI6 and explored the moral ambiguities raised by his old boss, legendary Soviet double agent Kim Philby. The shadows of both Philby, and fellow traitor Anthony Blunt, add to the sense of art colliding with life, and make it all too believable.
I am amazed that Graham Greene, in his 70s when he wrote this, was still able to create works of such depth and power so late in his career.
Surprisingly this espionage fiction set presumably amid the Cold War has proved itself as one of Mr Greene's enjoyable works, it was my misunderstanding with insufficient motive and information that kept me stay put for years till a few months ago when I decided to resume reading his "The Confidential Agent" as well as "Our Man in Havana" in which his writing style, tragedy episodes, sense of humor, etc. have since served me as some essential backgrounds before premature decidedly plunging in to enjoy reading him. One of the reasons is that in the 'Forward' the author said, "My ambition after the war was to write a novel of espionage free from the conventional violence, which has not, in spite of James Bond, been a feature of the British Secret Service. I wanted to present the Service unromantically as a way of life, men going daily to their office to earn their pensions, the background much like that of any other profession -- whether the bank clerk or the business director -- an undangerous routine, and within each character the more important private life." (p. 7); therefore, some might be disappointed in the protagonist, Muarice Castle, whose action is not thrillingly hero-like as compared to James Bond by Ian Fleming or Jason Bourne by Robert Ludlum.
I particularly admired this bookshop scene: It was an unusual respectable bookshop for this area of Soho, quite unlike the bookshop which faced it across the street and bore the simple sign 'Books' in scarlet letters. The window below the scarlet sign displayed girlie magazines which nobody was ever seen to buy -- they were like a signal in an easy code long broken; they indicated the nature of private wares and interests inside. But the shop of Halliday & Son confronted the scarlet 'Books' with a window full of Penguins and Everyman and second-hand copies of World's Classics. The son was never seen there, only old Mr Halliday himself, bent and white-haired, wearing an air of courtesy like an old suit in which he would probably like to be buried. He wrote all his business letters in long-hand: he was busy on one of them now. 'A fine autumn morning, Mr Castle,' Mr Halliday remarked, as he traced with great care the phrase 'Your obedient servant'. 'There was a touch of frost this morning in the country.' 'A bit early yet,' Mr Halliday said. 'I wonder if you've got a copy of War and Peace? I've never read it. It seems about time for me to begin.' 'Finished Clarissa already, sir?' 'No, but I'm afraid I'm stuck. The thought of all those volumes to come ... I need a change,' ... (pp. 55-56)
I mean whenever we read his seemingly typical narrative and dialogs in style of his own, we simply can't help vaguely recalling something familiar, the text rings a bell as remotely and secretly as we long to know where we've read or heard that before. For instance, the following few lines would illustrate the inevitably mysterious finale in the world of notorious espionage:
She said, 'Maurice, Maurice, please go on hoping,' but in the long unbroken silence which followed she realised that the line to Moscow was dead. (p. 335)
في بداية الرواية شعرت اني اقرا سيناريو احد الافلام الخاصة بالجاسوسية مما جعلني اندم على شراء الرواية ، فقد اصبحت في عمر لا يسمح لي الاستمتاع بمثل تلك النوعية من الروايات بالرغم طبعا من احساس الحنين لايام زمان وسينما اودوين بوسط البلد وافلام جيمس بوند ، لكن اتباعي الصارم لقاعدة قراءة الكتاب لنهايته انقذني من خطأ كبير في حق تلك الرواية ، فهي ليست قصة تقليدية عن الجاسوسية لكنها في المقام الاول انسانية ونفسية ،عن حياة الاسرار والقلق ، القتل بلا ذنب لمجرد الشك ، فإذا كانت تلك المؤسسات والوكالات الخاصة بالامن الوطني والاستخبارات تقوم على مناهج ميكافيلية لا أخلاقية ، فمن المؤكد ان العاملين فيها هم في النهاية بشر ، واقعون تحت ثقل التناقض بين وظيفتهم وطبيعتهم ولا شك ايضا ان منهم من هو متكيف تماما ، حتى دوافع البطل هنا ليست ايدلوجية او ايمان مقدس بالوطن لكنه شيء اخر انساني فدافعه هو العرفان لمن انقذوا زوجته واهلها ، وكأن الكاتب يريد ان يرسم مفهوم أخر للوطن بعيدا عن الاكليشهات
When writing this novel, Graham Greene wanted to write an espionage story free from the violence, and unreality, of the spy stories of the time. Indeed, this is not a James Bond adventure, but is espionage set very much in an unromantic and realistic world of desk jobs and paperwork – but with a threatening undercurrent of danger. Notably, Greene once worked with Philby and, although he insisted that Castle was not based on him, there is an attempt to explain why someone would be tempted into being a double agent which suggests that Philby may have been on his mind. The two continued a correspondence and their relationship would be worthy of a novel itself.
Maurice Castle is sixty two. He works for MI6, in the African section, along with his colleague, Arthur Davis. Castle, unlike the younger Davis, has worked in the field. Indeed, he once had to escape South Africa, along with the woman who has since become his wife, Sarah. Now, though, he mainly sends off telegrams, wades through reports and watches Davis and his constant attempts to romance his secretary, Cynthia.
When a leak is traced to their section, both Castle and Davis find themselves under suspicion. This is a moving, and tragic, novel in parts – but also has moments of great humour. We see dinners, at which those in charge of the secret service make decisions based upon very dubious, circumstantial evidence. Castle is forced to work with the man who once interrogated him in South Africa and to consider the safety of his small family. Still, he is, you feel, lucky to have them. The over-riding sense you have from this book is how lonely the business of espionage is. Many of the characters are lonely; their work lives guarded and secret, leaving them unable to talk to anyone outside of the office. This novel has moments of great depth and feeling and I am glad that I read it.
“Viviamo tutti nella stessa casella ma non siamo noi a sceglierla”
Primo romanzo di Greene che leggo. Avvincente direi che è l’aggettivo più calzante per questa spy-story dove la salsa è molto english ma il tutto è presentato s’un piatto di portata internazionale. Il personaggio principale, Castle, è infatti alle dipendenze del Ministero degli Esteri e assieme al suo assistente Davis, si occupa della sezione 6a dove arrivano telegrammi Top Secret dall’Africa. All’apparenza un lavoro d’ufficio monotono nella sua ripetizione finché un giorno arriva un certo Daintry responsabile della Sicurezza. L’Africa è una torta troppo golosa: oro, diamanti e uranio sono stuzzicanti per qualsiasi palato e, dunque, occorre tenere gli occhi aperti. Un romanzo che coinvolge attirando con la curiosità di chi legge e suscitando empatia con dei personaggi rinchiusi "ognuno nella propria casella" e dove amore e odio sono entrambi pericolosi E sarà proprio il fattore umano a fare la differenza.
I am surprised every time I read an espionage thriller and DO understand what is going on. Graham Greene makes what happens clear and understandable. I appreciate this. I don’t like to be kept in the dark too long. I want to have an inkling of what is going on. Some chapters start out hazy, but then soon the confusion dissipates!
This story is about a bureaucrat working in the British Foreign Office, in the Secret Service. He is married to a black African whom he met while stationed in apartheid South Africa. There are thus two threads that intertwine—espionage as well as a love bond across racial lines. A child is involved, as well as a dog. These side elements, I am referring to both the dog and the child, are well drawn. What they say and do feel very real. How the dog plays into the story is first rather amusing and then shocking. The dog brings the espionage to a relatable level. This is all I can say without saying too much.
The espionage thread concerns both a leak and a double agent. Who is the leak and who the double agent? Greene deserves praise for making the events crystal clear, exciting and relatable on a human level. I think that what makes Greene’s tale so engaging is that the characters are normal human beings like ourselves.
I also like the ending. Greene does NOT tie up the strings all neatly. He doesn’t and he shouldn’t. Life isn’t that way.
Thomas Schweder narrates the audiobook translated to Swedish. He mumbles his words, so I didn’t like the narration all that much. He doesn’t change his intonation for the different characters. My rating is two stars. It was OK, but no better than that. The book was very good, but not the narration.
I like Greene’s books because it is easy to relate to the characters—even those who are spies!
Απλά, υπέροχο! Ένα κατασκοπικό μυθιστόρημα, που όμως δεν είναι κατασκοπικό αλλά μάλλον κοινωνικοψυχολογικο. Πολύ έντονα στοιχεία νουάρ, αλλά δεν είναι νουάρ. Αρκετά επίκαιρο, αντιρατσιστικό, με έντονες αναφορές στο απαρτχάιντ. Ένα page turner με την καλή έννοια. Από αυτά που δεν θες να αφήσεις από τα χέρια σου. Δεν θέλω να πω πολλά για να μην αποκαλύψω πολλά. Το προτείνω ανεπιφύλακτα.
When Graham Greene wrote this book he was 74 years old and had published his first novel 49 years earlier. These are two facts that show how extraordinarily long-lived the literary career of this man has been.
But those who may look for decay or incipient senility in "The Human Factor" will be disappointed. Among the 6 novels of Mr Greene I read so far, this is among the best ones even considering the usual high-quality standards of this author.
"The Human Factor" is a novel of apparent stillness and the power of memories where not so much seems to happen in the present with the main characters constantly looking backwards. The daily life of middle-aged Mr Castle is spent between his desk in a tiny office in London and a detached house in the sleepy little town of Berkhamstead, where Graham Greene himself was born.
And yet, Mr Maurice Castle is no Bartleby. He would not prefer to, but he got the habit of his dull office life spending his lunch breaks alone in the nearest pub far and chatting with his only colleague, whom he calls by his surname, Davis. Mr Castle may look like a common commuter trying to read heavy books on the train and then cycling back home being welcomed by his wife, his son and a glass of J&B, but he is and he was something and someone else. The memories of his very different past are not forgotten and soon enough will blow Castle's life to pieces.
What I liked here is that Graham Greene aged well and by all accounts. "The Human Factor" is not your usual spy story, but a book where cliff-hangers are hidden and the tension is subterranean and treacherous. There are masterfully drawn scenes with some of the best dialogues I've ever read and there is even humour every now and then.
All the references to Maltesers, whisky brands and some horrible artificial-palmed hotel on the way to Heathrow are carefully chosen with an accurate and sensitive attention to every minor detail which could become a key point in the development of the story. How Greene fulfilled this technique without indulging in over-descriptions or wordy digressions is the best sign of a great novelist who once again managed to stay very focused on what was going on around him from history to politics to social trends.
গ্রাহাম গ্রিনের এস্পিওনাজ উপন্যাস। অসাধারণ, দুর্দান্ত ইত্যাদি যতো যা-ই বিশেষণ ব্যাবহার করিনা কেন এর মাহাত্ন্য বোঝানো আমার কর্ম নয়। স্পাই উপন্যাস বলতে আমরা যেমন বুঝি, ভীষণ সুদর্শন নায়ক, যিনি নাচে-গানে, বোমা ছোঁড়ায়, পিস্তল চালনায়, উড়োজাহাজ ওড়ানোয়, বিছানায় রতিকর্মে সমান দক্ষ, এ বই থেকে তেমন কিছুর আশা করে থাকলে ভীষণ হতাশ হতে হবে। জেমস বন্ড বা মাসুদ রানা কিছিমের বইতে আমরা যেমন গল্পের গরুকে গাছে উঠতে দেখি, এ সবের কিছুই এ বইতে আসলে ঘটেনা; ইংল্যান্ডের বিষণ্ণ আবহাওয়ায় বিষণ্ণ এক গোয়েন্দা অফিসের প্রতিদিনের একঘেয়ে কাজের গল্প, কিন্তু এর মাঝেই টানটান উত্তেজনার পরিস্থিতি তৈরী হয়, রহস্য ঘনীভূত হতে থাকে, আর বিশ্বের দুই পরাশক্তি দেশের রাজনৈতিক সম্পর্কে টানাপোড়েন বাড়তে থাকে। ব্যাক্তিগত জীবনে গ্রিন নিজেও গোয়েন্দা ছিলেন, স্পাইগিরি করেছেন। সে সব অভিজ্ঞতার আলোকেই এ ধরণের বইগুলো তাঁর লেখা, উদ্দেশ্য অনেকটাই যেন জেমস বন্ডদের ভেংচি কাটা। হৃৎপিণ্ডের গতি বাড়িয়ে দেয়া থ্রিলার আমরা সবাই-ই কমবেশী ভালোবাসি, তবে থ্রিলার/ এস্পিওনাজ ঘরানার বই আর চলচ্চিত্রকে বাণিজ্যিকভাবে সফল হত�� হলে কাকতালের ওপর সম্ভবত ভীষণ ভরসা করে চলতে হয়, বিশ্বাস-অবিশ্বাসের সীমানাটা সেখানেই বড্ড ঘোলাটে হয়ে পড়ে। বাঙলাদেশেরই সাম্প্রতিক সময়ের একজন থ্রিলার লেখকের বইতে দেখছিলাম ভিলেন যতোবার তাঁর নায়কের উদ্দেশ্যে গুলি ছোঁড়েন, নায়ক বরাবরই ‘কোনমতে’ সে গুলি এড়িয়ে যান (লেখক মহাশয়ের মুক্তহস্তে ‘কোনমতে’ শব্দটির যত্রতত্র ব্যবহার চোখে পড়বার মতো। থ্রিল বাড়াবার জন্য লেখক কয়েক পাতা পরপরই নায়ককে বিপদের মুখে ঠেলে দেন, আর যখনই সে বিপদ নায়কের টুঁটি প্রায় চেপে ধরবো ধরবো করছে, তখনই পরম ত্রাতা হিসেবে ‘কোনমতে’ শব্দটি এসে নায়ককে বাঁচিয়ে দিয়ে যায়), ওদিকে মোটরবাইক থেকে ছিটকে পড়ে শূণ্যে উড়তে উড়তেই নায়ক ঠিক ঠিক লক্ষ্যভেদ করে ফেলেন। তবে আমাদের দেশী এই থ্রিলার লেখকদের দোষ দিয়েই বা কি হবে, তাঁরা পশ্চিমের যাঁদের কাছ থেকে অনুপ্রাণিত হন, কিংবা ক্ষেত্র বিশেষে যেখান থেকে টুকলিফাই করে দেন, তাঁদের অবস্থাও বিশেষ সুবিধের নয়। বছর দুই আগে ডেভিড বালদাশির ‘দ্যা ক্যামেল ক্লাব’ বইটি পড়ার দুর্ভাগ্য হয়েছিলো। ভদ্রলোক তাঁর থ্রিলার বইগুলোর মিলিয়ন মিলিয়ন কপি বেচেছেন গোটা বিশ্বে। তো ২০০৫-এ লেখা ক্যামেল ক্লাব বইটির কিছু এজেন্ডা আছে। ৯/১১ এর পর বহু সুশীল পশ্চিমা লেখক মুসলমানদের পক্ষে অবস্থান নিয়ে যাঁর যাঁর অবস্থান থেকে লিখেছেন, বিশ্ববাসীকে বোঝানোর চেষ্টা করেছেন ৯/১১ নিতান্তই একটি বিচ্ছিন্ন ঘটনা, মুসলমানরা আদতে অত্যন্ত শান্তিপ্রিয়। এঁদের কেউ একধরণের দায়িত্ববোধ নিজে অনুমান করে নিয়েছেন, কেউ হয়তো করেছেন ব্যাবসার ফিকিরে, পৃথিবীতে মুসলমানের সংখ্যা ১.৮ বিলিয়ন, জনপ্রিয়তা বা আর্থিক লাভ, কোনদিক থেকেই এ সংখ্যাটি ফেলে দেবার মতো নয়। সে যাই হোক, কাহিনীতে অনর্থক বহু জি��িপীর প্যাঁচ খেলিয়ে বালদাশি শেষতক যা দেখালেন তা হলো অ্যান্টিহিরো যে চরিত্রটি আছে, তিনি সরকারের নানা প্রবঞ্চনামূলক আচরণে বিরক্ত ও ক্ষুব্ধ হয়ে সরকার বাহাদুরকে সাজা দেবার তরে এক মুসলমান জঙ্গি গোষ্ঠির সাথে আঁতাত করেন আমেরিকার প্রেসিডেন্টকে অপহরণ করবার জন্য, তবে অ্যান্টিহিরো মহাশয় আর তাঁর দোসর এই জঙ্গি গোষ্ঠির নীতিবোধ টনটনা, তাঁরা প্রেসিডেন্টকে অপহরণ করবার যে ছক সাজান, তাতে খেলনা বন্দুক ব্যবহার করেন, কারণ কারো ক্ষতি হোক তা তাঁরা চাননা! প্রেসিডেন্টকেও অপহরণ করে কয়েকটা কড়ামিঠে কথা শুনিয়ে, দুটো চড়-থাপ্পড় দিয়ে তারপর ছেড়ে দিতে চান। ৯/১১-এ যাঁদের স্বজন নিহত হয়েছেন তাঁদের এই গল্প পড়ে কেমন লাগবে কে জানে। এসব বাদেও যাচ্ছেতাই রকম বালখিল্যতা তো আছেই, চরিত্রগুলোর যখন যা ইচ্ছে তা-ই করে ফেলতে পারছে, প্রয়োজনমতো সময়ে সেই ‘কোনমতে’ এসে নায়কের পিঠ কোমরের নিচের অংশটি বাঁচিয়ে দিচ্ছে…সব মিলিয়ে বালদাশি কি লেখেন এবং কেমন লেখেন? দু'টো প্রশ্নেরই উত্তর তাঁর নামের প্রথমাংশে আছে।
যাকগে, গ্রাহাম গ্রিনের নায়কের এই দৈবিক গুণগুলো নেই, এটাই সারকথা।
Titles always intrigue me. In this case I couldn’t help wondering if The Human Factor might be an ironic reference to ‘disposable’ humanity in the espionage world or the incalculable response of unpredictably emotional humans which (can) cause the best of plans to go awry. Perhaps both?
Published in 1978, The Human Factor was immediately made into a movie the next year. Although I haven’t seen it, I would like to. It is a very hard book to review, to do justice to, without giving away too much. It is extremely understated and must be appreciated as it is written. It is not happy, nor meant to be. Still I could not put it down.
There is an underlying intensity which hinges on the hypothetical question: What would it take or for what would you betray your country? Money? Power? Fear? Your life? Many lives? Love? Absolutely nothing? Something to consider...
What is the human factor?
July 7, 2018: This has been on my shelf ever since I used to belong to Folio, years ago. How have I let a GG go so long without reading it? No excuse.