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A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene

A Burnt-Out Case (1961)

by Graham Greene

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Read during Spring 2004

Life seems rather tough for English Catholics. The main character is actually Belgian, an ecclesiatical architect who has lost his faith and his vocation for creating buildings. He leaves his life in Europe and finally ends in a leper hospital in the Congo. I'm sure there is symbolism everywhere that I didn't get but it was a fascinating read anyway. Querry is a magnet for those in conflict about faith; Ryker, the former seminarian and pretensious pseudo-intellectual, and Father Thomas, a priest at the mission associated with the hospital. He simply wants to live his life quietly but is confronted with his previous fame and what everyone else believes he must want. Are you who you are or merely what others choose to see of you?
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
summer-2013, tbr-busting-2013, afr-congo, catholic, plague-disease
Read from August 13 to 16, 2013

a burnt-out case (1960)

gbox> fraudio> rosado> read by richard morant
summer 2013> tbr busting 2013
catholic fiction
Africa> Congo> Disease
shortie at 224 pages> tragedy> gloomy

wiki plot: Querry, a famous architect who is fed up with his celebrity, no longer finds meaning in art or pleasure in life. Arriving anonymously at a Congo leper colony overseen by Catholic missionaries, he is diagnosed - by Dr Colin, the resident doctor - as the mental equivalent of a 'burnt-out case': a leper who has gone through a stage of mutilation. However, as Querry loses himself in working for the lepers, his disease of mind slowly approaches a cure.

References to Albert Schweitzer
  mimal | Aug 26, 2013 |
The first GG that I ever read, over twenty years ago. Not self indulgent or sentimental like Durrell or Graves, Greene was the best of the authors that I started reading at that time of my life, apart from P.G. Wodehouse, of course. ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Aug 1, 2013 |
I am about half way through this book, and am enjoying it without quite knowing where it is going. Deep in the heart of Africa a man is trying to escape from his past, which keeps cropping up. Elements of Catholicism also keep popping into the story, as if the characters are part of this faith and yet not part. It is interesting so far ( )
  MTedesco | Jul 3, 2013 |
Not the best Greene novel. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jun 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
he somewhat forbidding title of Graham Greene's new novel is a term used for those victims of leprosy who can be cured because the disease has eaten about all that it wants -- toes, ears, fingers. They no longer suffer the excruciating pains of those who undergo cure with their bodies intact. Pain is the alternative to mutilation.

"A Burnt-Out Case" is a fascinating study of the relationship of suffering, especially freely accepted suffering -- to wholeness. Greene has set his novel in a remote African leprosery run by nuns and priests. They have as their unexpected guest an internationally famous architect named Querry who arrives incognito, trying to escape as far as possible from his past.

Querry is himself a burnt-out case. He is no longer moved to design a building or sleep with a woman. His love of women was really self-love, and his artistic self-expression was the kind that consumes the self. Even when he was creating modern churches, Querry's art was inhuman, a matter of space and light and textures, with no feeling either for people or prayers. Now whatever fed his vocation has ceased to exist. In his terrible aloneness and deadness he can neither suffer nor laugh.

The novel tells the story of Querry's gradual recovery, or what would have been recovery if the world he tried to flee had let him alone. But a celebrated journalist seeks out Querry, a fat man who "carries his corruption on the surface of his skin like phosphorous." He wants a story that will have the appeal of the stories about Dr. Schweitzer at Lanbarene. With the aid of a neighboring colon, he cooks up a sensational story which falsifies and sentimentalizes the simple, good relationship between Querry and Querry's crippled leper servant. And then Querry's relationship with the colon's pretty young wife is falsified in another way that brings the novel to an ironic and violent close.

The events, however, are less important than the conversations about pain and wholeness, self-love and selflessness, belief and disbelief show a changed and milder mood in Greene. Though this does not necessarily make it a better novel, "A Burnt-Out Case" is free from the theological arrogance, the baiting of rationalists, the melodramatic use of attempted bargains with God which gave a peculiar edge and intensity to Greene's earlier religious fiction. Speaking particularly of his "The End of the Affair," Martin Turnell once wrote: "It is impossible not to be struck by the vast place occupied by hate and the tiny place reserved for charity in the work of contemporary Catholic novelists."

In "A Burnt-Out Case" the balance has shifted. Greene no longer tries to make both humanity and Christianity seem as distasteful as possible. There is ample charity both in the sense of good works and of affectionate understanding.

The sympathetic characters are the religiously uncommitted doctor with his special sense of what Christian love means and the priests who are more interested in curing the natives' bodies that in regulating their sexual mores, who would rather talk about the practicalities of being useful than about the state of each other's souls. The unsympathetic characters are the scrupulously self-righteous. The most repellent character is the spiritually and socially ambitious colon who prides himself on his informed Catholicism. He is a former seminarian, a spoiled priest, morbidly preoccupied with the rights, duties and symbolism of Christian marriage.

Though she plays such an important part in the plot, the colon's young wife is rather lightly sketched in, as are some of the other characters. This is not a novel of great intensity of feeling or one much concerned with the violently changing Africa which is its locale. "A Burnt-Out Case" does not have the color or richness or freshness of detail of "Brighton Rock," "The Power and the Glory" and "The Heart of the Matter." In its quietness, its retrospective air, the parabolic quality of its plot, it is more like Camus' "The Fall." The protagonist's tiredness and detachment affect the novel as a whole. And yet, though Greene does not seem to be trying very hard so far as the story-telling is concerned, though he is not practicing to the full the arts of the novelist, he does nevertheless out of his own humanity make this a very appealing novel, wise, gentle and sympathetic.
And yet, though Greene does not seem to be trying very hard so far as the story-telling is concerned, though he is not practicing to the full the arts of the novelist, he does nevertheless out of his own humanity make this a very appealing novel, wise, gentle and sympathetic.

added by InfoQuest | editNY Times, R G Davis (Jul 9, 1961)
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'Io non mori', e non rimasi vivo.' (I did not die, yet
nothing of life remained.)


'Within limits of normality, every individual loves
himself. In cases where he has a deformity or
abnormality or develops it later, his own aesthetic
sense revolts and he develops a sort of disgust
towards himself. Though with time he becomes
reconciled to his deformities, it is only at the
conscious level. His sub-conscious mind, which
continues to bear the mark of injury, brings about
certain changes in his whole personality, making him
suspicious of society.'
R. V. WARDEKAR in a pamphlet on leprosy
To Docteur Michel Lachat
First words
The cabin-passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes: 'I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive,' then sat pen in hand with no more to record.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140185399, Paperback)

Querry, a world-famous architect, is the victim of an attack of indifference, no longer finding meaning in art or pleasure in life. Arriving anonymously at a Congo leper village, he loses himself in work for the lepers. As he helps the lepers, so he approaches a self-cure.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An architect is the victim of an attack of indifference - he no longer finds meaning in art or pleasure in life. Arriving at a Congo leper village, he is diagnosed as the mental equivalent of a 'burnt-out case'.

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