Fiona's Reviews > The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
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What a lot of angst! I don't think I really enjoyed this book until the last quarter. It seems to be split into arbitrary parts so that the storyline loses momentum at times. The anguish Scobie suffers over his Catholicism is lost on a non Catholic but it seems to me an irony that having a strong faith can cause so much pain. Some phrases left me bewildered: 'He listened with the intense interest one feels in a stranger's life, the interest the young mistake for love.' Really? 'In our hearts there is a ruthless dictator, ready to contemplate the misery of a thousand strangers if it will ensure the happiness of the few we love.' Very true but is this more Catholic guilt? And then the completely contradictory 'better surely to pretend a belief than wander in that vicious vacuum of cruelty and despair'. Again - really?!

In the end, I suppose this book made me think but it's not an edifying book and it's certainly not uplifting. I haven't read Greene for years and I think I'm now realising why. The other problem I had was that Scobie often morphed into Captain Mainwaring and the last scenes between him and Helen were transposed to the platform of Brief Encounter. Kept it interesting, I suppose.
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Reading Progress

December 5, 2012 – Started Reading
December 5, 2012 – Shelved
December 5, 2012 – Shelved as: general-fiction
December 15, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Quo (new)

Quo I have never thought of Graham Greene as expressing or conveying Catholic guilt. While he became Catholic as part of a marriage contract, he remained Catholic as an act of defiance in Anglican England, at times calling himself a "Catholic Agnostic" but enjoying the structure & ritual, at least from a distance. Many of his characters display what is often labelled "moral ambiguity", something I see as a more universal quality.


Fiona Quo wrote: "I have never thought of Graham Greene as expressing or conveying Catholic guilt. While he became Catholic as part of a marriage contract, he remained Catholic as an act of defiance in Anglican Engl..."

He had a deep interest in religion and seems never to have grown tired of exploring the Catholic faith and its effects on believers, including guilt I would say. He was friends with Evelyn Waugh, a much more eager convert than Greene, and probably learned a great deal about the subject from him (I’m surmising rather than knowing that). He was certainly obsessed by guilt and seems to have felt permanently guilty over his inability to be faithful - not that it ever stopped him!


message 3: by Darlene (new)

Darlene What a terrific review, Fiona!:) I'm not an expert but I was raised catholic and yes, guilt is a HUGE issue! It is something I still struggle with at times and I don't think I am alone in this. I haven't read much of Graham Greene but I do think you are spot on in your assessment!


Fiona Thanks so much, Darlene. I was raised Scottish Presbyterian so a very different upbringing. I think all religions have an element of guilt interwoven, eg the ‘we are all miserable sinners’ narrative. When I grew up, no ‘respectable’ person would have washed their car or hung out a washing on a Sunday and I still have a (small) pang of guilt even now if I do either!


message 5: by Darlene (new)

Darlene Fiona.. I think you're right! Guilt is a great way to control the population.. after they have been indoctrinated, of course! :) I don't mean to sound cynical. I know religion works for many people and faith is important to many people. I think that guilt is often such a big deal in Catholicism because of how rigid the church doctrine is. There isn't a whole lot of space for seeing the world in shades of gray. And instilling fear is also part of the equation... 'if you commit these sins, hell is waiting for you.' It can be quite frightening and that fear can lead a person to feel guilt if a person begins to question the veracity of what he/she has been taught. I hope I haven't rambled too much and that this makes some sense to you. And I know just what you mean about doing chores on a Sunday!! :)


Fiona You’re not rambling at all, Darlene. I think you’re absolutely right.


message 7: by Darlene (new)

Darlene Thanks, Fiona! You always seem to understand what I'm trying to say!! :)


message 8: by Quo (new)

Quo We were talking about Graham Greene? To assign worry about guilt to Graham Greene is to ignore certain patterns in his life, including that he lived according to his own rules, not those of the "Church of Rome". Part of being a Roman-Catholic in the U.K. in Greene's day was the sport of thumbing one's nose at the existing power structure & its anti-papist hierarchy. Greene loved being British but mostly when he lived elsewhere & he enjoyed being an RC if it meant interesting chats with Jesuits over sherry while never being hemmed in by ecclesiastical dictates as to what constituted "sin". Just my own view of the author after many years of reading his novels, essays and a few biographies as well.


message 9: by Lyn (new)

Lyn Elliott I hadn’t ever thought of being Catholic as a nose-thumbing sport, but like the idea. It fits Greene, what about Waugh?


Fiona Quo wrote: "We were talking about Graham Greene? To assign worry about guilt to Graham Greene is to ignore certain patterns in his life, including that he lived according to his own rules, not those of the "Ch..."

Quo wrote: "We were talking about Graham Greene? To assign worry about guilt to Graham Greene is to ignore certain patterns in his life, including that he lived according to his own rules, not those of the "Ch..."

I’m not sure which comment you’re reacting to but I didn’t say that his guilt was connected to religion. I said that he may have learned about the emotional side of it from Evelyn Waugh, not that he experienced it himself. I acknowledge that your knowledge of him is greater than mine, Bill - that wouldn’t be difficult frankly - but my impression has been that guilt as a theme interests him. He expressed his guilt over his serial infidelities in interviews and that is what I was referring to, not guilt related to religion. I hope that clears up any misunderstanding as I seem to have touched a raw nerve.


message 11: by Quo (new)

Quo One of my favorite Graham Greene characters is the so-called "Whiskey Priest" in his novel, "The Power & the Glory", someone I think speaks clearly to the author's own sensitivity to the occasional ambiguity between good & evil.


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