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.