Friday, November 30, 2012

Worthy of Graham Greene

I must be a sucker for novels with the names of other authors in their titles. Just this week I bought a copy of Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels. A few weeks ago I finished The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. Also on my shelves I have The Poe Shadow by the same author and, among other books, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte. Now I have read Gloria Emerson's 2000 novel Loving Graham Greene.

Emerson, a New York Times war correspondent, wrote just the one novel before her death in 2004, but it is a small gem. The story tells of Molly Benson, an idealistic American woman with more money than sense. Novelist Graham Greene has recently died as the story opens, and Molly is still in mourning. She loves his books and once met the great writer. She imagines he was a close friend, although she is beginning to realize his letters to her were merely polite responses to her letters to him, nothing more. In any event, she wants to make some grand gesture in Greene's memory, and she decides to use her money to try to free imprisoned writers in Algeria.

Algeria is a dangerous place at this time, especially to foreigners, but Molly decides she must go there herself, as she imagines Graham Greene would have done. With her are her friend Bertie, another middle-aged woman, and Toby, an overweight younger man, who is invited along only because Molly's husband, busy making a film in Japan, thinks two women shouldn't travel alone to a Muslim country.

There is a scene where the group visits an Algerian hospital and Molly learns about their desperate shortage of supplies because of lack of funds. Yet she doesn't even consider donating any of her money to this cause. She prefers schemes more grand and symbolic, however impractical they may be. She believes her plan, which involves carrying a lot of American money in her shoes and handing it out to anyone who might conceivably be of help, is more worthy of Graham Greene.

Emerson's novel is alternately funny and sad. Just about every sentence is a masterpiece. The novel, at any rate, is worthy of Graham Greene.

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