A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
Back in 2010, I took a Joseph Conrad/Graham Greene seminar as part of my MA degree. I quickly learned to love both authors, but especially Greene’s craft. My personal favorites are Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair (I still don’t get the looooooove for The Power and the Glory. Someone explain to me, plz?). A Burnt-Out Case was on our list, but as it turns out, our semester turned out to be shorter than our reading list (and we read a book a week, which is about right for an average graduate literature seminar, not to mention the theory and secondary readings). So I have moved this book around twice and am finally reading it. So: this is not the Graham Greene in my “love” column.
Querry is a famous architect, known by sight, who has tired of everything: fame, fortune, family, you name it. He decides that the best course of action is to recover in a remote location where his prestige means absolutely nothing. He finds himself in a leper colony deep in the Congo, where clashes between colonials and the indigenous folks have emerged. He befriends Dr. Colin and M. Rycker, but it is his friendship with Mme. Rycker, however innocent, that will turn the conflict into its startling pivot.
I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it, either. The themes are interesting, but I found them a bit overworked. A lot of Catholic academics at the Catholic institution where I am currently employed frequently refer to Graham Greene as a “Catholic” writer. This is both true and not true. Yes, Greene does explore the Catholic faith, institution, and Christian themes. Yet, as this book shows, he’s deeply ambivalent about it all. Perhaps if this had been the first Greene book I’d read, I would have found the ideas more compelling. As it is, I am well familiar with Greene’s major themes, so this was nothing new.