Thank goodness for Richard Greene, whose splendid one-volume biography offers a succinct counterbalance to Sherry’s inedible trifle and conjures the man Evelyn Waugh nicknamed 'Grisjambon Vert' (French for 'grey ham green') in all his perplexing variety. Where Sherry is tactless and indecorous, Richard Greene (no relation) is respectful and considered. Crisply written ... Excellent use is made of the thousands of letters from Graham Greene to his family, friends, publishers, agents and close associates that have come to light since Sherry published his first volume in 1989. Cogently argued and happily free of jargon, The Unquiet Englishman offers a long-needed antidote to 'dirty linen' biographers who have sought to expose a darker shade of Greene and, in consequence, lost sight of the books. At last Graham Greene has the biographer he deserves.
Richard Greene edited the epistolary anthology Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, and he displays an authoritative grasp of his subject. In a brisk and transparent style, he covers every chapter of Graham Greene's tumultuous life ... The biographer provides fascinating accounts of how Greene got his ideas ... While Richard Greene covers all the bases, his account is at times light on context. He complains that Graham Greene's life 'is sometimes boiled down to sex, books and depression,' but women mattered to Graham Greene, and a deeper dive into his marriages, love affairs and betrayals would have enriched the author's psychological portrait ... The biographer writes of Greene's 'horrific, sustained depressions of the 1950s,' but does not describe them in detail ... Greene's own writings are used sparingly. Richard Greene downplays Sherry's biographical efforts...but one pleasure of Sherry's books was their use of extensive passages of Greene's prose to illuminate key periods in the author's life ... This new biography is perhaps best used as a companion to rereading Greene's splendid (and splendidly tormented) novels. Of writers who chronicled the anguished history of the 20th century, Graham Greene's work is central to that account, and essential to understanding the age and its 21st-century aftermath.
All this is terrific fodder for a biographer. This one opts to steer a middle course between two earlier chroniclers, the lapdog approach of Norman Sherry and the harshly critical tone of Michael Shelden. His eye is on the nuances. The Unquiet Englishman is authoritative and thoroughly researched, while being superbly readable. It ably tracks the works from inspiration to publication, sometimes followed by transformation into movies ... The book has some flaws. While it’s true that explaining historical context is an essential element of solid biography, Richard Greene in this realm becomes excessive. This defect often crops up when he delves into the politics of Vietnam or Central America, say, to clarify what Greene was up to in his forays into those conflict-riddled regions. In self-defense, readers are likely to skim these sections, their eyes glazing over ... And when taking the measure of Greene’s relationship with Kim Philby, the biographer is far too generous ... Still, The Unquiet Englishman is a very solid work, and should long serve as the standard biography.
The Unquiet Englishman is what might be called a Monday-Tuesday biography. On one page, it tells you what Greene did on a certain day in, say, June of 1942. On the next page, it tells you what he did the following day, or three days later. This method surely owes something to the fact that Richard Greene, a professor of English at the University of Toronto, edited a collection of Graham Greene’s letters. In other words, he knew what Greene did every day, and thought that this was interesting material—as it could have been, had it contributed to a unified analysis of the man. Mostly, however, the book is just a collection of facts ... Neither are we given much in the way of literary commentary. That is not a capital offense. Many good literary biographers have excused themselves from the task of criticism ... Richard Greene does make a contribution to our understanding of his subject. In place of earlier biographers’ interest in Graham’s sex life, he set out to cover the writer’s life as a world traveller—specifically, a traveller in what was then known as the Third World, and therefore an observer of international politics.
The publication of The Unquiet Englishman is cause for celebration. A professor of English at Toronto University, and no relation, Richard Greene has already edited a valuable collection of Graham’s letters. Taking the high view that his subject is ‘one of the most important figures in modern literature’, and that previous biographers ‘lost sight of what mattered’ in focusing on ‘the minutiae of his sexual life’, he gives us a nicely written and well-judged cradle-to-grave portrait that needed to be conventional and unshowy and is all the better for it ... Richard Greene has mastered a tremendous amount of material. Greene’s travels and friendships spanned a world undergoing unusual political upheaval. His published works encompass journalism (including 600 film reviews for this magazine), plays, biographies and 26 novels. The result is a pared-down portrait that keeps to the track, but knows when to race ahead to tell us information to which we need not return — although, in his declared intention to avoid the salaciousness of his predecessors, Richard Greene walks sometimes too far down the plank of discretion.
The biographer’s determination to find the best in his namesake can also be seen in his treatment of Greene’s loyalty to the high-ranking traitor Kim Philby – his former boss in MI6 – which has long been a festering sore in the novelist’s larger reputation ... The more introspective Greene is largely missing from this book, with a whole absent dimension including his wonderful dreams ... his well-developed fondness for smoking opium is also beautifully discussed in his own writing. His biographer makes disapproving short shrift of this, and when Greene the writer describes the pleasure of opium as 'intellectual', Greene the biographer feels the need to add '– whatever that means' ... For all that, this book has very real strengths within its chosen field of Greene’s public career as an engaged writer, concerned with international human rights, set within the context of twentieth-century history ... There are even odd little nuggets which seem to have eluded Norman Sherry ... Both Greenes come out of The Unquiet Englishman as decent men, and although it doesn’t supersede either of the previous major biographies, its distinct approach makes it a very worthwhile addition. If this more wholesome picture of Greene just occasionally fails to convince, there are more occasions when it does.
Greene combines this focus on context with a thoughtful and respectful discussion of the novelist’s emotional life ... not only tracks Greene’s travels but also provides detailed context for the political situations and atrocities in all the countries he visited. Because the novelist traveled so widely, much of the biography is taken up with contextual information almost unrelated to Greene’s interior life or his books. Richard Greene does point out when specific events from Graham Greene’s travels are reflected in his novels, but he is very careful not to overdraw links he sees between contexts and texts. Rather than simply discussing these travels as the novelist’s attempt to escape from his personal demons, Richard Greene shows subtly but repeatedly that the author was deeply committed to his work in support of dissidents, of oppressed people, and of people living in horrific conditions ... Greene’s sparkling biography will allow readers to appreciate the novels of Graham Greene in a fresh way.
My sympathy goes out to Richard Greene, who, after editing the English novelist’s collected correspondence, now chronicles a life as crazed as a hall of cracked mirrors ... In large measure, this approach enriches the perspective [on Greene] ... Sometimes, however, this focus on 'political and cultural contexts' comes at the expense of attention to Greene’s private behavior. The Unquiet Englishman contains many examples of his charity to worthy causes, generosity to relatives and friends ... But perhaps to avoid any charges of prurience, Richard Greene lets a stream of prostitutes and lovers flow through the book as one-dimensional as shapes in a shooting gallery. Greene’s promiscuity is mentioned but seldom delved into.
... the most readable, balanced approach so far to both a complicated life and an intensely enjoyable body of work; it makes use of newly available letters, diaries and recollections concerning Greene and his closest friends. It is neither as excessively detailed as the Norman Sherry biography released in three volumes between 1989 and 2005, nor as combative as Michael Shelden’s 1994 portrait ... The Greene who emerges here rarely stayed in one place for very long and was continually dissatisfied with the world that he witnessed changing convulsively around him.
Richard Greene skilfully teases out the political backgrounds of these dismal locations, and the real-life people whom he transformed into fictions. He shows Greene’s amazing knack of turning up when trouble is rumbling ... Less successful is his treatment of the knotty religious cruxes that hover over Greene’s key novels ... The trouble isn’t Richard Greene’s grasp of metaphysics; it’s that, to 21st-century readers, discussions of damnation and God’s mercy sound redundant ... As Greene’s rate of book and film production increases, the narrative becomes a dizzying merry-go-round of travel, publication, sex, alcohol, religion, money, adultery, self-loathing, intrigue and betrayal. Sometimes these elements overlap so dramatically, you feel you’re reading a parody ... The book, elegantly sliced into 78 chapters, bounds along with fluency, clarity and wry humour. It doesn’t deliver startling revelations to eclipse Norman Sherry’s three-volume authorised life, but its agenda is clear. Greene concentrates on his namesake’s emotional involvement with victims of oppression in the world’s poorest countries and the Cold War, celebrating his vigorous defence of dissidents, from his old boss Kim Philby to his friend Chuchu Martinez, who ran arms to Nicaraguan rebels. He rescues Greene from seediness and coldness.
[A] sympathetic biography ... an unstated thesis in RG’s biography is that Greene’s books and reading were as decisive an influence on his literary creations as were his travels ... Apart from tracing his reading habits, biographers of Greene must account for his travels — 'There is no understanding Graham Greene except in the political and cultural contexts of dozens of countries,' RG declares — but also his agony as the bullied son of a headmaster and his resulting psychoanalysis ... Despite their widely differing approaches, RG and the late Sherry have one thing in common, beyond their choice of subject. Each portrays Greene as a representative no less than a chronicler of his age ... the chief merit of The Unquiet Englishman is how the reader does not feel rushed: short chapters distill key episodes from the life, each examining the relationships, locales, and literary work that occupied Greene at the time. The chapter headings are pithy and evocative ... In a word, RG’s prose is economical. This was a virtue dear to Greene ... RG would have enriched his narrative (though perhaps also lengthened it) by attending even more closely to the evolution of Greene’s craft.
This, as its author acknowledges, is intended as a corrective to Norman Sherry’s mammoth three-volume endeavor The Life of Graham Greene (1989-2004) and Michael Shelden’s Graham Greene: The Enemy Within (1995), both of which went to town on their subject’s sexual peccadilloes and his supposed deviousness. Greene’s Greene, alternatively, is, if not exactly a benign, healing presence, then a force for good in the political and ethical debates of his day—a mythmaker, certainly, and a creature of the will but, for all his trafficking with the devil, indisputably on the angels’ side ... How does Greene the biographer—whose courtesy, good intentions and scholarly know-how are in evidence from one page to the next—treat these first 35 years and the packed half-century of books, romance and political intervention that fans out beyond them? On the one hand, he is good on the author as mythmaker, deducing that the truth about the trigger-happy teenager out on Berkhamsted Common with his revolver may well differ from published accounts ... On the other hand, there is the question of what might be called biographer Greene’s ideological stance. It would be perfectly possible to single out The Unquiet Englishman as an example of the shifting moral compass of the contemporary life and times. If the old-style biographer liked to rootle around salaciously in its subject’s knicker-drawer, then the new one is much keener on punishing offenses against modern liberal orthodoxy. To put it bluntly—far more bluntly than Richard Greene would care to put it—the sins of some 300-year-old ancestor you never knew can figure far more conspicuously on the charge sheet than cheating on your wife ... The little gusts of censoriousness blow thick and fast ... How curious, then, that the complications of Greene’s private life should be allowed to pass virtually without comment ... Richard Greene has written an astute and sympathetic biography, but a neutral reader—I am one—may leave it thinking that his subject was not quite as great a writer or nice a man as he suggests.
In a sense Greene’s work was an attempt to capture precisely the lives of those who did not paint or compose, or know some form of transcendence in the form of established religion or spirituality. His own Catholicism is sufficiently well-trodden territory to need no further investigation. What Richard Greene does instead is to link Greene more solidly to the historical events he participated in. In other words, he attempts to reverse the priority of 'life and times' ... This is where problems set in. There are moments – many – when the biographer digresses to point out the after-histories of the many trouble-spots Greene knew. Sometimes, the point is briefly apposite ... Elsewhere, as in the Congo, his flash-forwards seem out of place and too quickly mugged-up ... The book is on much stronger ground when dealing with the evolution of what Greene referred to as 'the doubt in my disbelief' ... Richard Greene does a very useful job in suspending the irrelevant distinction between 'novels' and 'entertainments', which Greene himself came to regret ... In short, punchy chapters, Richard Greene delivers a remarkably whole and believable Greene, stripping away some of the mystique and 'doubleness'.
For all his claims to be drawing on new material, Richard Greene can’t help but go over old ground, from the Shirley Temple libel case to the tiff with Anthony Burgess. It was an immensely busy life and the telling of it here, in 78 short chapters and 500 brisk pages, feels rushed. The emphasis on Greene as foreign correspondent and emissary is certainly fresh. But the cost is an excess of information on the internal politics of the countries he visited, not always pertinent to the fiction. To spend more time on the history of Panama in the 1970s, for example, than on the Greene’s long and complicated affair with Catherine Walston may be a corrective to earlier biographies. But it does little to explain the man and throws more attention on a lesser nonfiction book (Getting to Know the General) than The End of the Affair, his masterpiece.
... insightful ... Though the narrative never loses its focus on Greene as an artist, readers will learn much about the daunting ideological barriers that Greene pushed through to craft his art. Readers will particularly benefit from the illuminating scrutiny of the Cold War orthodoxies Greene violated not only in his iconic The Quiet American, but also in later, often-forgotten works, such as Our Man in Havana and The Honorary Consul. A complete portrait of a many-faceted titan.
... detailed ... The biographer draws on information unavailable to previous biographers and, in contrast to Norman Sherry’s three-volume study, doesn’t preoccupy himself with his subject’s repeated infidelities. Instead, he writes of a man steady in his work though unsteady in most else, including his mental health ... Greene’s life story is both interesting and fascinating, and this balanced account offers the best reading of how his personal life infused and enriched his work.
... exhaustive ... The biography creates a vivid impression of how, despite these mental health struggles, Greene kept up an impressive pace as a writer, producing film reviews, screenplays, and classic novels ... It’s awe-inspiring that Greene fit so much into a single life, and it’s no small feat that his latest biographer has so skillfully captured that life in a single work that can sit confidently next to Norman Sherry’s three-volume biography of Greene.
While many of those papers are revelatory, readers are likely to be frustrated by the author’s habit of seguing from one topic to another without fully developing each one ... The book is at its strongest in passages that document Graham’s eventful travels, such as his trip to Indochina for research on The Quiet American, the atrocities he witnessed in Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier and used as the basis for The Comedians, and the many chapters on his travels to Panama and his friendship with military leader Omar Torrijos during the country’s struggles for sovereignty ... A comprehensive but scattershot biography of one of the most spirited writers of the 20th century.