Graham Greene - The Human Factor
When Graham Greene wrote this book he was seventy-four years old and had published his first novel forty-nine years earlier. These are two facts that show how extraordinarily long-lived the literary career of this man has been.
But those who may look for decay or incipient senility in The Human Factor will be disappointed.
Among the six novels of Mr Greene I read so far, this is among the best ones even considering the usual high-quality standards of this author.
The Human Factor is a novel of apparent stillness and the power of memories where not so much seems to happen in the present with the main characters constantly looking backwards. The daily life of middle-aged Mr Castle is spent between his desk in a tiny office in London and a detached house in the sleepy little town of Berkhamstead, where Graham Greene himself was born.
And yet, Mr Maurice Castle is no Bartleby.
He would not prefer to, but he got the habit of his dull office life spending his lunch breaks alone at the nearest pub and chatting with his only colleague, whom he calls by his surname, Davis. Mr Castle may look like a common commuter trying to read heavy books on the train and then cycling back home being welcomed by his wife, his son and a glass of J&B, but he is and he was something and someone else. The memories of his very different past are not forgotten and soon enough will blow Castle's life to pieces.
What I liked here is that Graham Greene aged well and by all accounts. The Human Factor is not your usual spy story, but a book where cliff-hangers are hidden and the tension is subterranean and treacherous. There are masterfully drawn scenes with some of the best dialogues I've ever read and there is even humour every now and then.
All the references to Maltesers, whisky brands and some horrible artificially-palmed hotel on the way to Heathrow are carefully chosen with an accurate and sensitive attention to every minor detail which could become a key point in the development of the story.
How Greene fulfilled this technique without indulging in over-descriptions or wordy digressions is the best sign of a great novelist who once again managed to stay very focused on what was going on around him from history to politics to social trends.
Julian Assange must surely have read this one.