The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
In The Quiet American Graham Greene has drawn upon his first-hand experience of the war in Indo-China to produce a thriller with political complications. It is outselling all his other books in England but won’t go over so well in this country-for obvious reasons. The novel is in the main a crime story, or whodunit- a well-constructed one with tension maintained throughout and a surprise ending that many a reader will kick himself for not having foreseen. Add to this the sharp up-to-date tone of very knowing, brusque, tough irony and provocative (tender-hard) disillusionment, plus a liberal dose of unsparing sexual detail, and you get the seemingly irresistible formula that is being applied nowadays more and more widely in fiction.
The formula is of course an American product. In Greene’s anglicized version it remains essentially unaltered, however much invested with more worldly finish and sophistication. As G. L. Arnold has suggested in a perceptive review in the Twentieth Century, for all its bitter anti-Americanism, The Quiet American depends for its chief effects on what Greene has absorbed from contemporary American writing. Thomas Fowler-the narrator-protagonist, who is so clearly the author’s alter ego in his political reactions and in some other ways too, and who embodies the narrative’s tone and perspective-exists as a novelistic creation “only by virtue of his descent from a long line of ‘tough’ characters in modern American fiction. . . . He could have walked straight out of the fictional Los Angeles of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler; indeed, there are moments when one half expects him to drop the mask and admit that he is really Philip Marlowe, Mr. Chandler’s private eye, sleuthing around in Indo-China improbably disguised as a British correspondent. Put Fowler down in Hollywood and you have the ideal part for Humphrey Bogart, down to the cynical wisecracks about women and the verbal fencing with the police.”
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