‘The Heart of the Matter’ by Graham Greene. A novel about happiness or conflict?

‘The Heart of the Matter’ is typical Graham Greene. It is quite heavy on plot, contains a lot of action, and depends on a remarkable location for some of the atmosphere. However, like several of his other compelling novels, it raises fundamental questions about the human condition in an accessible style.

Set in the Second World War in a colonial context, death is much discussed. People perish in a variety of ways as the European conflict rages on. But it seems to me that the real interest of the novel is in the attitudes of the main character. He is devoted to trying to make people happy. This goal makes nobody happy, least of all himself. While the Catholic religion is an important element in his unfortunate fate, one can see that it is his remarkable determination to make others happy which leads to a diversity of negative consequences.

The book is a bit dated in places, but the text does keep the reader interested. Some of the minor characters are a little stereotypical also. However, Greene had a way of keeping the reader on their toes. One way in which he did this was to refer to other literature at appropriate places. Poetry, Virginia Woolf, and W. Somerset Maugham are conspicuous presences in the drama. The book might not make the reader happy, but it will certainly make many readers question what is to be done about happiness in a complex world.   

 

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