A police officer serving in a wartime west-African state, is distrusted — being scrupulously honest and immune to bribery. But then he falls in love, and in so doing, he is forced to betray everything he believes in, with drastic and tragic consequences.
Book Review: There are those like Joyce and Rushdie whose religious upbringing informs their work, or Roth’s whose is inescapable, but there may be no greater writer than Graham Greene whose choice of religion is more explicit in his work and in none of his novels it is on display like in The Heart of the Matter. Just look at the line early in the novel. Scobie, the policeman protagonist, is checking the cabin of a ship for contraband during the Second World War in a British colonial town in West Africa. Scobie has discovered an illegal envelope and is trying to decide what to do with it. The captain of the ship, desperate to escape trouble tries talking him out of it but Scobie will have none of it. Then we have this exchange: ‘I shall pray,’ the man said without hope. ‘Why not?’ Scobie said. ‘You are an Englishman. You wouldn’t believe in prayer.’ ‘I’m a Catholic, too,’ Scobie said.In those four simple lines Greene cuts to the heart of the his character and his feeling of isolation. That an Englishman in the mid 20th Century would have no belief in prayer is taken for granted. That being a Catholic would overcome being an Englishman, that this would seem a contradiction some 400 years after the founding of the Church of England says so much about the time and place. Of course, that Catholicism doesn’t stop Scobie from having an affair when his wife goes off to South Africa on holiday. In fact, it leads to one of the more poignant moments in the novel: ” ‘It’s a wonderful excuse being a Catholic,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t stop you sleeping with me – it only stops you marrying me.’ “
Wikipedia Article: The Heart of the Matter (1948) is a novel by English author Graham Greene. The book details a life-changing moral crisis for Henry Scobie. Greene, a British intelligence officer in Freetown, Sierra Leone, drew on his experience there. Although Freetown is not mentioned in the novel, Greene confirms the location in his memoir, Ways of Escape. The Heart of the Matter was enormously popular, selling over 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom upon its release. It won the 1948 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Heart of the Matter 40th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.
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