The Barrier and Graham Greene

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Reading what is often referred to as Graham Greene’s chef-d’œuvre, 1940’s The Power and the Glory, was not exactly at the top of my summer reading list this year, but coincidentally, much like my adherence to reading Ibsen’s The Doll House and Hedda Gabler every January, I somehow have managed to accidentally read a Greene novel every summer for the past four years. This year makes number five, and somehow, again, I have managed not to read The Power and the Glory until now. In some ways, however, I’m not convinced it is better late than never.

I wish I could have spent much more time with The Power and the Glory, an account of a priest living and avoiding authorities in the Tabasco district of Mexico in the 1930s, a time when the government attempted to literally ‘Soviet Union’ Catholicism/religion right out of the country. I’m a sucker for Judeo-Christian allusions, references, and symbols in novels, which this book literally drips in, and it’s even better when I have to search for them, like some type of word search that throws me back to my childhood at St. Joseph’s Catholic School (the same three answers on every homework question on how to be a better Catholic: 1. Don’t eat meat on Fridays in Lent, 2. Pray., 3. Don’t steal my brother’s sins when waiting in line for Confession because I can’t think of my own.) Unfortunately, I had to finish the book rather quickly as I was housesitting and needed to return objects to their rightful place.

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The nice thing about Greene’s writing is that most of his novels are fairly short; about 220 pages. But they can be dense in content and vocabulary, even due to the fact that most of the texts are not that dated compared with many other British novels we are forced to read in school.

I so desperately want to love Greene’s work. I really do. Nearly all of the books I have read by him have compelling and interesting storylines, and Greene was excellent at utilizing controversial topics throughout his novels and plays. But I feel as if there is a wall between me and Graham as a reader. I so desperately want to be consumed by his novels. I want to frantically read every chapter in order to get to the next chapter, because if I don’t find out what it is going to happen right this second, I might drink the bleach from the laundry room. But this has never happened for me. Maybe it is the language usage, the dated vocabulary, the overwhelming anxiety of the characters that Greene is so known for. Whatever it is exactly, I’m unsure. We are separated by a wall, the text and I, and though I can stand at the wall and look over it, I can never climb over that wall fully into the story.

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I can entirely admit that this is my own fault as a reader; maybe I am expecting that which Greene’s work is not and never can be. Yet I have created this idea that if I just read one more of his novels, it will happen for me and I will fall in love with the story and recommend it to all my friends. Though I do recommend The Power and the Glory, I believe I’d recommend it to people with a warning: expect to remain an outsider when reading the text and brush up on your Catholicism beforehand.

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