The Life of Graham Greene: 2volume 1

Norman Sherry, Author
Norman Sherry, Author Viking Books $29.95 (816p) ISBN 978-0-670-81376-6
Reviewed on: 06/01/1989
Release date: 06/01/1989
The celebrated novelist chose his biographer because, according to Sherry, he was impressed with his studies of Joseph Conrad, and by the fact that he had journeyed to the places his subject had known. That was 14 years ago, and in the course of preparing this massive study of Greene (still very much alive at 84), Sherry trod in the novelist's wide-ranging footsteps too. He also was given access to Greene's remarkable letters, granted occasional, highly reluctant interviews by his reclusive subject, and even managed to unearth Britons who knew him at school. The portrait that results is riveting, going to the heart of Greene's darkly anguished worldview and the anxieties, guilts and demons that have driven him to create more than 30 novels, travel books and essay collections. From the start, as a pupil at a school where his father was headmaster, Greene was unhappily out of place, aware in the bullying of his schoolfellows of the omnipresence of evil. He suffered agonizingly from boredom and as an Oxford student went on harebrained cloak-and-dagger trips to Germany and Ireland in search of danger; in extremity, he played Russian roulette with a loaded revolver. Some of this has been recounted in Greene's own eliptical memoirs, A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape , but Sherry expands on them convincingly, showing what the novelist evaded or omitted. Entirely new, too, are the details of Greene's romantically obsessive courtship of Vivien, the wife for whose sake he embraced Roman Catholicism. Sherry is as good on the literary side as on the personal. Greene's books are exhaustively mined for sources--Sherry's travels yield remarkable discoveries, including the identities of some of the people who were fashioned into characters in Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory --and judiciously evaluated. Greene's early journalism, his fascination with the movies and his years as a reviewer also make absorbing chapters. Biography on this scale, and of this quality, is rare and justifies its length. The second volume is eagerly awaited. Photos not seen by PW . (June)
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