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The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 1990s, 2016, classic, war, fiction
Read 2 times. Last read July 18, 2018 to July 21, 2018.

The Heart of the Matter, although considered by many one of the best novels ever written, is thought by others a depressing, unhappy story. Certainly, the characters in Greene’s book bump and bang into each other, literally ‘bumping off’ themselves and those in their way, for what they believe is love.

Of course, it is about love. Real love. Not Romance, nor what most people think is love. Love isn’t sex, nor is it a feeling, nor is it ‘liking someone’. Reviewers and readers over the years have believed/claimed the main character, Henry Scobie, doesn’t love his wife, Louise. He certainly spends enough time debating this question, in his mind and with her. But what do his actions attest—at least in the beginning? Does he at least try to do what St. Paul says constitutes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8? What else can or should a person do committed to love another? If a man persists in doing all that is right for another for the right reasons, don’t the actions speak for something? Don’t they speak to a greater love because they are so difficult? Love is easy when it is ‘fun’ or enjoyable’, but is that really ‘love’?

Scobie struggles with himself mightily throughout the novel. How he resolves this question as well as other dilemmas would spoil the book’s plot—and it is an extraordinary plot set on the Western coast of Africa during World War II.

Love and how it is expressed is central for other characters as well. Here is a partial quote from Father Rank confessing his admiration of Scobie in a particularly ironic scene: “When I was a novice, I thought people talked to their priests, and I thought God somehow gave the right words. Don’t mind me, Scobie, don’t listen to me. …I had a parish once in Northampton … I wasn’t of use to a single living soul. I never had much talent for loving God as some people do. I wanted to be of use, that’s all. Don’t listen to me. Its’s the rains. I haven’t talked like this for five years.” Despite all this honest self-deprecation, in the final scene in the book, Fr. Rank proved when the petal hit the metal, God gives the perfect words. It is usually the hearer who doesn’t listen. And Fr. Rank’s love for God was in his deeds as well as his words, though he didn’t realize it.

The Heart of the Matter is all about matters of the heart and what matters to the heart. We each have different way of expressing these and mostly we go through life not understanding each other.
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Quotes booklady Liked

Graham Greene
“People talk about the courage of condemned men walking to the place of execution: sometimes it needs as much courage to walk with any kind of bearing towards another person's habitual misery.”
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

Graham Greene
“A single feat of daring can alter the whole conception of what is possible.”
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

Graham Greene
“We'd forgive most things if we knew the facts.”
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter


Reading Progress

November 15, 1998 – Started Reading
November 21, 1998 – Finished Reading
January 27, 2009 – Shelved
July 18, 2018 – Started Reading
July 21, 2018 – Shelved as: 1990s
July 21, 2018 – Shelved as: 2016
July 21, 2018 – Shelved as: classic
July 21, 2018 – Shelved as: war
July 21, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
July 21, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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John A great book!


booklady Yes!


John Great review. I see Scobie as loving too much. He wants to do right by everyone in his life. His guilt at the loss of his servant (name I can't remember) devastated him perhaps worse than his betrayal of his wife. He did love but he lacked the humility to realize that he could not be perfect. I loved this even though I found it to be terribly painful. Or maybe that's why I loved it??????


message 4: by Manny (new)

Manny Definitely one of the books I need to read. It’s on my bookshelf somewhere. Thanks.


message 5: by Josephine (Jo) (new)

Josephine (Jo) Lovely review!


booklady John, your magnanimity does you credit. And yes, certainly a case could be made for Scobie's efforts to please everyone to his own detriment. Personally, I thought Greene was creating enough ambiguity that our reaction to Scobie's choices would be more a reflection of our own heart than his.

It was achingly painful! I leaned more to Scobie being lacking in the Gifts of Wisdom and Understanding, than Humility, but I don't know. He was going through a dry prayer spell that is for sure. He needed spiritual assistance and yet everyone was coming to him. So, you may be right, that could be lack of humility. I just don't know. Definitely need to read it again. It is such a rich book!


booklady Thanks Manny and Josephine! I hope you read it Manny. Would love to know what you think. bl+


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