picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
The Power and the GloryThe Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish my book club had suggested this book during wintertime. Then I could have approached it in a suitably dark mood. As it was, they suggested it at the tail end of a very nice, sunny summer in London, where my thoughts were more on fun things I could do outdoors then on bleak hours I could spend in the company of a nameless “whisky priest” on the run from police officers.

Graham Greene is a master stylist, one of the best writers in the English language – perhaps even the best? But he’s not the kind of author you can pick up anytime. You have to approach him in a certain frame of mind, in a certain mood – at least if you want to get the most out of his prose.

From John Updike’s introduction you learn that Greene wrote this novel after spending a very short time in Mexico, but his ability to capture a place and time was so successful all Mexicans who read the work afterwards felt immediately transported back (unhappily so, probably.) It’s a testament to Greene’s talent as a writer that he can conjure so much – write so evocatively – of a land he wasn’t raised in.

The novel’s nameless narrator is one of the last remaining clergymen in a Mexico run by a government that has decided to burn all churches and execute all priests. But he’s no saint: he has a daughter he loves more than anything in the world (and who hates him), he loves a tipple (hence the “whisky priest” nickname), and he often has uncharitable thoughts about others. The landscape he travels through is one of desolation, poverty, struggle – one he feels at times responsible for, at times disassociated from. All the while, the police are closing in on him, cutting off his escape routes.

I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy and his brutal worlds, in particular “The Road”, which also features a nameless man travelling through a barren landscape. Both novels show characters and animals pushed to the extreme when humanity and the rule of law have disappeared – when the question of God’s existence is at the forefront of everyone’s mind as it seems only He can deliver them from their living nightmare.

Greene’s flawed priest is aware that salvation is perhaps not even available for himself, and if he notices the similarities of his own predicament with Jesus’ story (the mule he escapes on, for example, or the bread he breaks with the man who will later betray him) he doesn’t show it. He tries his best to bring some Christian comfort to the people he encounters, but it’s so tinged with his own imperfections the reader begins to wonder if salvation is available to anyone at all.

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