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The Power and the Glory
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The Power and the Glory - Title #3

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Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
This time when I went looking for a new title for our bookclub The Power and The Glory, by Graham Greene caught my eye.

I know it's an older title, but then that adds some diversity to our reading list and there's certainly no rule about only having to read contemporary titles.

Plus, I happen to have never read this Graham Greene title. I recently read Our Man in Havana and loved it - the Power and the Glory is recognised as his masterpiece, so it should be grand.

I've got a bookclub box on my desk at work, containing plenty of copies, if you'd like to drop in a claim one.

Let's finish the year with a classic.

Louise | 23 comments Very happy with this classic selection Chris - It will be only my second Greene novel. There is a copy at Taree which I will collect today.

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
It’s now been over a week since I finished The Power and the Glory and if I don’t review it now it’s only going to get harder to recall how it made me feel.

With the Last Painting of Sara de Vos Louise found a link to a series of questions. In keeping with this tradition, here’s another list of questions:
Last time I tried to tackle a number of these, but found it fairly daunting. This time I’m using them to frame my review.

First of all, I read it inside a week when I was incredibly time-poor. I couldn’t put the novel down. This is one of Greene’s great strengths. He manages to wrap great moral questions into a piece of work that is lean (200 p) but rich. And riveting. I even found the side characters (the dentist, Captain Fellowes, the child, the native that pursues him) Spartan in their presence and yet they so succinctly add to the tapestry Greene has created.

Amongst other things, it is a novel of pursuit and has elements of Les Miserables about it – and the same sense of fanaticism to the chase. I found this an interesting counterpoint. The Lieutenant is driven by his beliefs to track down the priest, because of the priest’s religious beliefs, but in so doing, we see the ethics of the pursuer and the pursued bought into question. The whiskey priest would be the first to admit he was morally challenged and his willingness to survive and do whatever that took didn’t add to his morality stockpile. Similarly, the Lieutenant (who I found one of the most fascinating characters in the novel) does what he believes he has to capture the priest, which involves killing peasants so they won’t harbour him.

And yet, twice the priest could have escaped and did not.

And yet the Lieutenant grudgingly respects the beliefs of the whiskey priest. He ‘couldn’t summon up hate of the small, hollow man’. He even says the priest isn’t a bad fellow. Curiously, it is the priest who disrepsects himself, not the Lieutenant, as can be seen in their dialogue:
‘I suppose you’re hoping for a miracle.’
‘You believe in them, don’t you?’
‘Yes, but not for me. I’m no more good to anyone, so why should God keep me alive.’

The dialogue between these two is one of the great moments of the novel, much as the dialogue between Robert de Niro and Al Pacino in Heat is one of the great moments in cinema.

I have so much more to say, and I realise that Greene’s ability to capture powerful themes and issues so succinctly, is at odds with my ability to review it. I fear the review could be longer than the novel.
I have collected a list of quotes, and the list of questions above reveals so many more elements to discuss. For example, is the whiskey priest a martyr? If so, what defines martyrdom? The person themselves certainly doesn’t get to.

I’ve made a decision. Rather than trying to unravel all the questions, and themes I’m going to provide you with the quotes that really grabbed me and made me think. This is possibly a cheating way to go, but at least it shows where I thought deeper issues lay:

It infuriated him to think that there were still people in the state who believed in a loving and merciful God. There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy – a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all. [Lieutenant]

‘I would rather die.’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘of course. That goes without saying. But we have to go on living.’ [husband to wife]

He was feeling happy. It is one of the strange discoveries a man can make that life, however you lead it, contains moments of exhilaration; there are always comparisons which can be made with worse times; even in danger and misery the pendulum swings’ [Priest]

Now that he no longer despaired it didn’t mean, of course, that he wasn’t damned – it was simply that after a time the mystery became too great … [Priest]

It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death. It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization – it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt. [Priest]

… at the centre of his own faith there always stood the convincing mystery – that we were made in God’s image. God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge. [Priest]

When you visualised a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity – that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was a failure of imagination. [Priest]

Hope is an instinct only the reasoning human mind can kill. An animal never knows despair. [Priest]

He wanted to say to this man ‘Love is not wrong, but love should be happy and open – it is only wrong when it is secret, unhappy … It can be more unhappy than anything but the loss of God. It is the loss of God. You don’t need a penance, my child, you have suffered quite enough’ [Priest]

The Lieutenant said in a tone of fury, ‘Well, you’re going to be a martyr – you’ve got that satisfaction.’
‘Oh, no. Martyrs are not like me. They don’t think all the time….’ [Lieutenant and Priest]

‘We’ve always said the poor are blessed and the rich are going to find it hard to get into heaven. Why should we make it hard for the poor man too? Oh, I know we are told to give to the poor, to see they are not hungry – hunger can make a man do evil just as much as money can. But why should we give the poor power? It’s better to let him die in dirt and wake up in heaven – so long as we don’t push his face in the dirt.’ [Priest]

And you’ll all have your own great quotes too.

Brilliant novel.

message 4: by Julie (new)

Julie | 9 comments Hi I am new to this bookclub and joined as wanted the chance to read books outside of my usual genres. I finished The Power and the Glory today and enjoyed the novel for its powerful themes and messages. The writing was very evocative and really gave me a good sense of the characters and the world they lived in. I think I need to read it again to get even further into the characters and the symbolism and the messages.

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Totally agree about the re-read Julie. Some novels just keep on revealing deeper themes and connections.

I'm glad you joined us to read outside your normal genre. I think this is really important.

If you have any further suggestions for titles don't hesitate to key us know.


PS my other Bookclub is reading Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It's a rich read but it's length is very challenging - sitting at over 700 p. It's our double-month Christmas read.

Louise | 23 comments My review of The Power and the Glory

Even though I have not rated The Power and the Glory as highly as a great many others I none the less appreciated the ideas which are at the heart of the Greene’s 1940 novel - good and evil, belief and non-belief, conscience and duty - weighty issues indeed! Although the  characters are well drawn I found the structure used by Greene to have them engage with the priest throughout his journey somewhat dull and the story as a whole unrewarding.

In Greene’s novel, the “power” of the state, personified by the lieutenant, is pitted against the “glory” of the Church represented by its gravely flawed 'whisky priest’. Both men are found wanting in their service of the institutions which they are supposed to champion. The priest gives way to despair ‘the unforgivable sin’ yet returns  to the scene of his despair “with a curious lightening of the heart.” p 57.
The lieutenant, believed that a man who robs and murders, “does no real harm….We all have to die. The money - somebody has to spend it.” p 17. It is clear that neither man is a positive advertisement for his profession but it is the priest, and by extension the Church itself, who Greene truly holds up to scrutiny. In so doing he gives the reader the opportunity to decide if the priest's non-adherence to Church doctrine should damn him for eternity or if his commitment to God and the people he ministers to should determine how he is ultimately judged. It is unsurprising that the Church took exception to Greene’s novel and requested in 1953 a revision of the novel - Greene did not fulfil the request. By the late 1960s Greene's novel was a prescribed reading text in Australian Catholic schools.

The most puzzling aspect of the novel’s presentation for me is also to do with religion. I do not understand how a non-Christian (and even more so a non-Catholic) reader could have a complete understanding of what is taking place in the story, especially in the mind of the priest. To my mind references to concepts such as mortal sin, confession, days of abstinence and altar stones as well as Biblical passages such a cock crowing three times thereby indicating betrayal, are so specific that they may limit the accessibility of the text to a wider audience. Obviously there are many readers who have had no trouble negotiating the religious dimensions of the novel and have been so impressed by it that they consider it a masterpiece.

John Kennedy | 16 comments I have just belatedly finished my re-reading of 'The power and the glory' , prompted by Chris's reminder to return it! It is powerful and often grim reading - at times I forced myself to go in, though towards the end I found the narrative more gripping. The issues raised are profound, the evocation of Mexico unforgettable, and the characters indeed memorable and generally convincing (though I did wonder if the lieutenant entirely came to life - he seemed at times to function as a foil to the priest).

As Louise says, it is very much a Catholic novel, and this is perhaps both a strength and something that diminishes its universality. But few would read it unmoved, whatever their background and personal convictions.

John Kennedy

message 8: by Bev (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bev | 22 comments Loved it. And like Julie, I will revisit the book to gain a deeper understanding of its very rich messages.

The heavy persecution of the church in Mexico in the late 1930's sets the scene for the ugly horror that all fugitives or refugees must face. Add to this the character of the priest: Initially a prideful, greedy and fearful man, he has lost all his possessions, his family (though illegitimate), and his health (through alcoholism and starvation). But because he is so affected by his upended world, he changes before our eyes. We see him evolve into someone who is humble, selfless and brave.

I agree with Chris about the powerful quotes within the novel. For example "Hate was a failure of imagination": just a sample of the humaneness that surfaced as the priest became more aware of his fellow man.

Written in 1940, when much of the Western world paid unrealistic reverence to 'sanctified' spiritual leaders, Greene portrays the whiskey priest realistically- as a human with weaknesses and shortcomings like everyone else. He COULD be anyone else. He remains nameless throughout the story, so he could be you or me. The other main characters - the Lieutenant and the Mestizo - also remain nameless. Symbolically, the priest becomes more Christ-like, the Mestizo is a Judas who betrays the priest, while the Lieutenant mirrors the legalistic Pilate. (?)

It was the Lieutenant's relentless hunt that gave the priest martyrdom, because it caused the fugitive's many sins to be overlooked by the people. They not only protected him from his pursuers, but they trusted him to continue in his faith, and he returned the favour by putting them before himself.

At every turn I found myself empathising with the priest because Greene shared the
Priest's evolving and sometimes mixed feelings with the reader.

However, at the end, Greene purposely changed his narrative style to exclude us from the priest's innermost thoughts. So we are left to ask ourselves: "If I had been the priest, how would I have felt immediately before my execution? At peace or fearful?"
Instead of the usual firsthand account, we witness the execution as a distant observer, leaving us to reflect on this story and its application for quite some time.

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