Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Bam! Two in as many days. That's getting back into the swing of things.

Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory is a heartbreaking book about an unnamed priest in an unnamed Mexican state (probably Tabasco) in which Catholicism is outlawed and priests forced to marry or killed. The priest runs all over the state, trying to escape a Javert-like lieutenant who pursues him, traveling from town to town trying to deal with his own inadequacy as a priest and a human being.

Greene has a style that's difficult to quantify, but it's beautiful. It has a sort of otherworldy quality that makes Mexico seem like a place out of a dystopian novel, not a work of near-contemporary fiction (Mexico cracked down on Catholicism in the 1930's, this book was written in 1940). Though the priest is a flawed and ugly character who has a problem with alcohol, cowardice, greed, and adultery--he fathered a child in his parish--he becomes a Christ figure. Here's a passage I like particularly:

But at the centre of his own faith there always stood the convincing mystery--that we were made in God's image. God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge. Something resembling God dangled from the gibbet or went into odd attitudes before the bullets in a prison yard or contorted itself like a camel in the attitude of sex.
The book is about retribution; when the "whisky priest" crosses the border into the safe state to the north but returns to give confession to a dying murderer at the behest of a man he knows has designs to betray him and take the reward money, we know that he has achieved it, though he does not realize it himself. I love books like this; though they can be morose and heartbreaking they are at their heart an affirmation of existence: the cold and calculating lieutenant believes that life is essentially pointless, but for all his sadness and self-loathing, the priest knows that even the ugliest and most horrendous of men are the image of God.

Recommended; appears on this list, bringing my total to 16.

1 comment:

Carlton said...

Way to channel Emeril Lagasse.
I have only read 5 from that list. Wow, I am one pathetic loser.