Wednesday, 11 November 2020

The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene

The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene
Published in the UK by Heinemann in 1940.

How I got this book:
Bought a second-hand copy appropriately enough from a church charity stall in Tavistock, Devon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seventy-five years ago, Graham Greene published The Power and the Glory, a moralist thriller that traces a line of influence back to Dostoyevsky and forward to Cormac McCarthy. Named one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century by Time magazine, it stands today as his masterpiece.
Mexico, the late 1930s: A paramilitary group has outlawed the Catholic Church and been executing its clergy. Now the last priest is on the run, fleeing not just an unshakable police lieutenant but also his own wavering morals. As he scraps his way toward salvation, haunted by an affair from his past, the nameless “whiskey priest” is pulled between the bottle and the Bible, tempted to renounce his religion yet unable to ignore the higher calling he’s chosen. Timeless and unforgettable, The Power and the Glory is a stunning portrait of both physical and spiritual survival by a master dramatist of the human soul.

This review was first blogged on Stephanie Jane in October 2015.

The Power And The Glory is set in Mexico, in a region where Christianity has been banned and the Catholic population forced to continue their worship in secret. Priests are hunted down and those few who have not abandoned their flocks completely must hide away, travel in disguise and lead mass by night in barns without the traditional tools of their trade. Our hero is a sorry excuse for a priest. An alcoholic 'whiskey priest' who has fathered a child outside of marriage, he is also the last remaining free priest and we see the closing noose through his eyes as the authorities, aware of his continued religious practice, slowly get nearer and nearer.

I love Greene's sense of pace and how he managed to fluctuate tension keeping me nervously page-turning throughout. Although this novel is now seventy-five years old its language and writing didn't feel at all dated. Greene's detailed descriptions of the Mexican people and landscapes allow for vivid imaginings but never bog down the story and we get to meet some wonderfully nuanced characters. There are powerful questions asked of the reader - if your beliefs were banned, would you quietly acquiesce or fight back? What human cost is too much? Should others pay on your behalf? - and these can be applied as much to ethical and social beliefs as to religious ones. 

A world-weary sense of inevitability hangs around the edges of the book, especially as the 'whiskey priest' begins to tire of life on the run, and Greene seems to have perfectly understood the stress of his protagonist's situation. The Power And The Glory isn't an easy read and offers different levels of interest depending on how deeply the reader wants to engage with the story. It's certainly a story that has remained in my mind for a long time after I had finished it.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Graham Greene / Thrillers / Books from England

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