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A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene

A Burnt-Out Case (1961)

by Graham Greene

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This book was a little too dark and haunting for me, but very well written. The main character, Querry, is a world famous architect and womanizer who attempts to "disappear" from the world by retreating to a leper colony run by the Catholic church deep in the Congo forest. Like lepers who lose feeling in affected limbs, he believes he has lost the capacity to feel. As usual with Greene, as Querry "recovers" his ability to feel, he also recovers his susceptability to pain. ( )
1 vote kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
‘Oh yes, make no mistake, one does. One comes to an end.’
‘What are you here for then? To make love to a black woman?’
‘No. One comes to an end of that too. Possibly sex and a vocation are born and die together. Let me roll bandages or carry buckets. All I want is to pass the time.’
‘I thought you wanted to be of use.’
‘Listen,’ Querry said and then fell silent.
‘I am listening.’

To me this quote perfectly describes A Burnt Out Case - it is a story about communication and miscommunication.

When Querry, a world famous architect, struggles to find any interest in life he decides to walk out and take up living in a leper colony in the Congo. Fed up with fame and having to cater to taste of people who do not share his vision or ability to imagine, he hopes that no one would recognise him, and all he wants to do is to be of use to the people around him.

However, things don't go to plan. Even at the leper colony he encounters a band of expats who badger him about his past life. As little by little the reasons for his burn-out are revealed, Querry starts to recover from the depression he experienced only to be confronted with the same paradox he tried to flee from.

"‘Two of your churches are famous. Didn’t you care what happened inside them – to people?’
‘The acoustics had to be good of course. The high altar had to be visible to all. But people hated them. They said they weren’t designed for prayer. They meant that they were not Roman or Gothic or Byzantine. And in a year they had cluttered them up with their cheap plaster saints; they took out my plain windows and put in stained glass dedicated to dead pork-packers who had contributed to diocesan funds, and when they had destroyed my space and my light, they were able to pray again, and they even became proud of what they had spoilt.'"

3.5* really. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
A very solid novel set in the Congo at the tail end of Belgian rule there in which Querry, a prominent architect who specialized in Catholic churches, shows up at a leper colony in the middle of nowhere with no explanation and very little desire to go on living. "A Burnt-Out Case" is, among other things, a study in character, a meditation on the necessity of having a purpose in life, a rumination on the nature of divine and human love, and a tragedy. Greene, as always, shows a journalist's eye for detail and a theologian's concern with serious subjects. It's however, that the best -- or most admirable, perhaps -- Catholics in this book are those with the fewest theological leanings or concern for doctrine. It's interesting to witness as one often does in Greene's novels, a colonialism in obvious decline, and the scenes set at the leper colony, which show the work of the courageous, if non-believing, Doctor Colin, are very affecting. Even so, I wouldn't call this one a fun read. Like most of Greene's "serious" novels, like "The Heart of the Matter," the problems here are largely moral in nature, and to read it is to see its characters suffer in the grip of an unremitting moral tension. Greene's too good a writer to make his characters into mere stand-ins for their theological positions, but this still doesn't make things comfortable for the reader. It's not that I wouldn't recommend "A Burnt-Out Case," it's that I was sort of glad when I finally finished it. It's a long two-hundred or so pages. Not one for the beach or the subway, this. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | May 28, 2016 |
Querry is a world-famous architect who travels to the Congo to get away from everything and everyone. He travels as far as he can away from civilization and ends up at a leper colony run by Catholic priests. They allow him to stay, and he helps where he can. Since most of the famous buildings he designed were churches, everyone assumes that Querry is a highly religious man who has come to Africa to help out of the goodness of his heart. No one believes him when he tries to persuade them that the opposite is true: he believes in no god and considers himself to be completely incapable of love.

This is the third (or maybe the fourth?) book that I’ve read by Greene, and up until now, I’ve said that we just don’t get along. His other books aren’t bad, they’re just not my cup of tea. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, however, because I really liked it. It drew me in and gave me a lot to think about.

I marked quite a few quotes that I liked, and I’ll share a couple of them here:

“It occurred to him that one could still feel the reflection of another’s pain when one had ceased to feel one’s own.”

“To build a church when you don’t believe in a god seems a little indecent doesn’t it? When I discovered I was doing that, I accepted a commission for a city hall, but I didn’t believe in politics either. You never saw such an absurd box of concrete and glass as I landed on the poor city square. You see I discovered what seemed only to be a loose thread in my jacket—I pulled it and all the jacket began to unwind. Perhaps it’s true that you can’t believe in a god without loving a human being or love a human being without believing in a god. They use the phrase ‘make love,’ don’t they? But which of us are creative enough to ‘make’ love? We can only be loved—if we are lucky.”
( )
1 vote AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (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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