(Original Review, 2007-05-15)
There some odd little insights: about how people used to travel by sea and get horribly ill, but then air travel came along and changed all that; Greene's very Catholic attitude to extramarital sex - screw your brains out, go to Confession, go to Mass, go to Communion, come home, screw your brains out with partner not your wife, go to Confession ... (I'm Catholic so I think I can say these things); [2018 EDIT: “The Power and the Glory” was nearly put on the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books, but saved by intervention of Cardinal who later became Pope Paul VI]. I’ve always been fascinated by Greene's “strangeness”: long and curious friendship with Kim Philby, who he visited in Russia several times, Greene's visa problems with US in the McCarthy era, Greene's amazing journeys of research for his novels - I suspect he would have put most of his contemporaries to shame - would I be right or wrong here, Greene's long friendship with Evelyn Waugh, which has caused me to reconsider the bad press Waugh usually gets as a nasty personality, and Greene's failure to win the Nobel Prize because he was Catholic, etc., etc.
As with all “Life in Letters” brought out by Penguin I've read so far, this is a collection of great richness, and I would suggest, a must for all Greene admirers.
I remember reading, I think in a Colin Wilson book, that Greene once played Russian roulette. I was wondering whether this was true or some sort of fake story. Also weren’t Greene and Waugh both Catholic converts?
More stuff on Greene from “A Life in Letters.” The Greene family was quite remarkable - diplomats, spies, explorers - all sorts of interconnections with Britain's ruling elite. Greene himself became very influential in the publishing industry. Greene almost financed Muriel Spark in her early career, regularly sending her 20 pounds when 20 pounds meant something. She repaid him by sending him copies of her books right up to when he died. He persuaded Mervyn Peake to edit Titus Groan, thus he helped bring the world the Gormenghast Trilogy. When Peake was wheel-chair bound and virtually paralysed he tried to make arrangements to get his expensive care paid for, but sadly didn't succeed.
He was always doing those sort of things for fellow writers. Though he wouldn't have a bar of J. B. Priestley, who claimed he was in one of Greene's early novels and tried to have the novel pulped.