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The Third Man by Graham Greene
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The Third Man (edition 1999)

by Graham Greene

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1,449385,171 (3.74)150
Member:JamesBorwick
Title:The Third Man
Authors:Graham Greene
Info:Penguin Books (1999), Edition: 50th, Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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The Third Man by Graham Greene

  1. 30
    The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (chrisharpe)
  2. 00
    Utz by Bruce Chatwin (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Bruce Chatwin's tribute to Greene, it follows a similar plot.
  3. 00
    How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (Queenofcups)
    Queenofcups: Bayard treats Greene's book discussion group scene in this very amusing little book.
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English (26)  Spanish (6)  German (3)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All (38)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
"What about views on the American novel?"
     "I don't read them," Martins said.
(17-8)

Even though this is probably a novella, I knew I wanted to teach it in my class on The Modern Novel. Like many novels I am obsessed with, it is itself about novels: the protagonist is Rollo Martins, a writer of paperback westerns who discovers that actual conflicts between good and evil are not so much like the ones he writes about every day. As a result, there's a lot of meditation here on knowledge: how do we know things and where does our knowledge come from? I see a lot of resonance between The Third Man and the later Justine; I guess it's no coincidence I read them in the same course as an undergraduate, or I taught them together myself.

Martins's emotional knowledge conflicts with the well-researched factual knowledge of Cab Calloway. Martins says, "I don't suppose anyone knows Harry [Lime] the way I do," causing Calloway to meditate, "I thought of the thick file of agents' reports in my office, each claiming the same thing" (27). Martins means 'as well as I do,' but there's a second sense you could take it in: that Martins's way of knowing Lime is distinct from all other ways of knowing Lime, and two pages later, Calloway thinks, "It was odd how like the Lime he knew was to the Lime I knew: it was only that he looked at Lime's image from a different angle or in a different light" (29). Martins is always meeting people whose views of Lime conflict with his, and he doesn't know how to deal with this. Lime's girlfriend Anna suggests to Martins, "There are always so many things one doesn’t know about a person, even a person one loves—good things, bad things. We have to leave plenty of room for them.… [S]top making people in your image. Harry was real. He wasn’t just your hero and my lover. He was Harry. He was in a racket. He did bad things. What about it? He was the man we knew.… [A] man doesn’t alter because you find out more about him. He’s still the same man" (114-15).

Some would say that the detective story—especially in its quintessential, Sherlock Holmes style—suggests that truth is a findable, achievable, objective phenomenon, but that’s not what’s up in The Third Man: all truth is mediated, through time, through personality, and we can never have access to the whole thing. Anna argues this is okay, but Martins seems to believe it’s something to be mourned. And, indeed, Martins doesn't solve his epistemological dilemma by reconciling or even acknowledging his way of knowing was unsophisticated; rather, he kills Lime, allowing him to return to his old paperback-style worldview. Lime threatened it, but Lime has been destroyed.

A subplot concerns Crabbin, a literary snob who accidentally invites Martins (whose pen name is "Buck Dexter") to speak to his literary society instead of the literary novelist he meant to bring (Benjamin Dexter). It's a source of good jokes, but it means more; Calloway closes the novel with a reflection on Crabbin, of all people: "Poor Crabbin. Poor all of us when you come to think of it" (157). No one is ever who you think they are. The story is mediated through Calloway to make sure we get this, to make sure we understand that the world is vastly more complicated than we can ever understand. Most of the characters in The Third Man, like Crabbin and Anna, know that they do not have the world solved, that any way of understanding life is only a fiction-- except for the one who writes fiction.

What a strange world unknown to most of us lies under our feet.
(148)
  Stevil2001 | Jan 1, 2017 |
I had never read anything by Mr. Greene before, but a request from a blogger I follow to honor his Grandmother with a reading of her favorite author had me picking this title up. I'm so glad I did because Greene is a spectacular author, and with his dozens of writings I will be able to read something by him for many years to come! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
I have tried to watch The Third Man more times than I care to remember. Tried and failed. I know it is considered a classic but the only effect it ever had on me was to put me to sleep.

As part of my self-imposed Greene-land challenge, this is one of the two books that I have looked forward to least. The other, btw, is Greene's other cinematic "classic" Brighton Rock.

So, there I was starting The Third Man having made a huge pot of coffee in full expectation that slumber would befall me at anytime.

And what happens? Greene brings to life the dreariness of post-war Vienna much more effectively on page than the film ever could in moving images. Who'd have thought it?!

"I never knew Vienna between the wars, and I am too young to remember the old Vienna with its Strauss music and its bogus easy charm; to me it is simply a city of undignified ruins which turned that February into great glaciers of snow and ice. The Danube was a grey flat muddy river a long way off across the Second Bezirk , the Russian zone where the Prater lay smashed and desolate and full of weeds, only the Great Wheel revolving slowly over the foundations of merry-go-rounds like abandoned millstones, the rusting iron of smashed tanks which nobody had cleared away, the frost-nipped weeds where the snow was thin. I haven’t enough imagination to picture it as it had once been, any more than I can picture Sacher’s Hotel as other than a transit hotel for English officers or see the Kärntnerstrasse as a fashionable shopping street instead of a street which exists, most of it, only at eye level, repaired up to the first storey. A Russian soldier in a fur cap goes by with a rifle over his shoulder, a few tarts cluster round the American Information Office, and men in overcoats sip ersatz coffee in the windows of the Old Vienna."

The other aspect I enjoyed about The Third Man was that this wasn't so much of a thriller which was meant to be taken seriously anymore. Greene found his touch as a writer of political spoofs - only later to be surpassed of course by Our Man in Havanna.

"There is a lot of comedy in these situations if you are not directly concerned. You need a background of Central European terror, of a father who belonged to a losing side, of house -searches and disappearances, before the fear outweighs the comedy. The Russian, you see, refused to leave the room while Anna dressed: the Englishman refused to remain in the room: the American wouldn’t leave a girl unprotected with a Russian soldier, and the Frenchman – well, I think the Frenchman must have thought it was fun. Can’t you imagine the scene? The Russian was just doing his duty and watched the girl all the time, without a flicker of sexual interest; the American stood with his back chivalrously turned, but aware, I am sure, of every movement; the Frenchman smoked his cigarette and watched with detached amusement the reflection of the girl dressing in the mirror of the wardrobe; and the Englishman stood in the passage wondering what to do next."



Review originally posted on BookLikes: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/1009421/the-third-man ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
3.5 ( )
  unelement | Apr 22, 2016 |
The classic noir story. So short ( ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 6, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Greeneprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baldini, GabrieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burger, FritzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To Carol Reed in admiration and affection and in memory of so many early morning Vienna hours at Maxim's, the Casanova, the Oriental
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One never knows when the blow may fall.
Quotations
For the first time Rollo Martins looked back through the years without admiration, as he though, He's never grown up. Marlowe's devils wore squids attached to their tails: evile was like Peter Pan--it carried with it the horrifying and horrible gift of eternal youth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This entry represents those editions containing only The Third Man. Please do not combine this work with editions that also contain other stories.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140286829, Paperback)

Rollo Martins' usual line is the writing of cheap paperback Westerns under the name of Buck Dexter. But when his old friend Harry Lime invites him to Vienna, he jumps at the chance. With exactly five pounds in his pocket, he arrives only just in time to make it to his friend's funeral. The victim of an apparently banal street accident, the late Mr. Lime, it seems, had been the focus of a criminal investigation, suspected of nothing less than being "the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city." Martins is determined to clear his friend's name, and begins an investigation of his own...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:55 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Rollo Martins, invited to Vienna by his schoolmate and hero Harry Lime, arrives just in time to attend Lime's funeral, but when he learns his friend was the subject of a criminal investigation, Martins embarks on a quest to clear Lime's name.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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