Reread #3: The Heart of the Matter

by david

(New to this? I’m rereading my favorite books that I hardly remember.)

Next up on the Reread docket: Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. Greene is one of my favorite novelists. He was a journalist who didn’t forget how to write. He’s primarily known for (effective) melodrama (Brighton RockThe Power and the Glory), but also was legitimately funny when he meant to be (Travels With My AuntOur Man in Havana). I’d guess that it was from 1998-2003 that I read most of Greene’s books, and though I hardly remember it, The Heart of the Matter stands out as a favorite.

What do I actually remember of it? Oh, hell. This whole exercise is going to be nothing but embarrassing. I remember that the main character is named Scobie, and that he’s posted to Africa as a low-to-mid-level diplomat. It begins on a hotel balcony, but I probably remember that because the pull quote on the back of the edition I own (which I’ve been careful not to look at for this) is the first sentence of the book, and I’ve seen it a few times over the years, as I’ve moved furniture.

I remember that Scobie is in love with a woman he’s met on the job, but that he’s in a loveless marriage and is an observant Catholic, so he will never divorce. I remember that he is reluctantly involved in, though I don’t think morally opposed to, some corruption on behalf of a local leader, and there’s some sort of shenanigans going on at a dock or shipping yard, and there may be a gun at some point.

I believe he may contemplate suicide at some point, perhaps by hanging in a bathroom, but then, I may be thinking of another book entirely.

I know it’s always hot, and that they drink a lot to pass the time and cool off. And that they’re probably just drunks, but cite the anti-malarial properties of gin and tonic. The last part probably has nothing to do with the book at all. I’m just grasping.

How can I call something a favorite and remember so little?

I’ll let you know if I figure that out.

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