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Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party (original 1980; edition 1981)

by Graham Greene

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8342010,806 (3.48)17
Member:austcrimefiction
Title:Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party
Authors:Graham Greene
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1981), Paperback, 144 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Fiction

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Doctor Fischer of Geneva, or, The bomb party by Graham Greene (1980)

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A darkly comic novel about a misanthropic millionaire who decides to hold the last of his famous parties, first published in 1980.

At first, nothing seems to happen. Our narrator arrives as an invited guest to find other diners already at the table. There is a strange current in the air, eventually traced to the strange gifts Dr. Fischer has distributed to his guests.

Clever, as you might expect of Greene.
4 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Jan 7, 2017 |
'It’s a bit too late for that, isn’t it?’
‘It’s never too late to spit at God Almighty. He lasts for ever and ever, amen. And he made us what we are.’
‘Perhaps he did, but Doctor Fischer didn’t.’
‘He made me what I am now.’
‘Oh,’ I said – I was impatient with the little man who had broken my solitude – ‘go up there then and spit. A lot of good may it do you.’


What a book! I can't reveal too much about the plot without giving some of the twists away but this was a meticulous exercise in spunky, dark. twisted, cynicism - and I loved it. If you're not a fan of Greene's dark side, stay way away from this one.

In places, the eponymous Dr Fischer and his games actually reminded me of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter character - except without the gore and cannibalism. The end of Dr Fischer reveals their differences in motivations, which was nice to read because it added another dimension to Dr Fischer.

‘It’s just to show the others that he can get you to come. He may try to humiliate you in front of them – it would be like him. Bear it for an hour or two, and, if he goes too far, fling your wine in his face and walk out. Always remember we are free. Free, darling. He can’t hurt you or me. We are too little to be humiliated. It’s like when a man tries to humiliate a waiter – he only humiliates himself.' ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
The story is narrated by Alfred Jones, a translator for a large chocolate company in Switzerland. Jones, in his 50s, lost his left hand while working as a fireman during The Blitz. Jones is a widower when he meets the young Anna-Luise Fischer in a local restaurant. Jones is surprised to learn that Anna-Luise is the daughter of Dr. Fischer, who has become rich after inventing a perfumed toothpaste and whose dinner parties are famous (or infamous) around Geneva. After a brief courtship, the two are married.

Anna-Luise is estranged from her father, the Dr. Fischer of the book’s title. Jones goes to see Dr. Fischer to inform him that he and Anna-Luise are married, but Dr. Fischer is indifferent to the information. Later, however, he invites Jones to one of his dinner parties; Anna-Luise warns Jones not to go, saying that these parties are nothing more than an outlet for her father to humiliate the rich sycophants (whom she calls “the Toads,” her malapropism for “toadies”) in his coterie. Jones goes anyway when Anna-Luise relents, saying that one dinner party can’t corrupt him.

At the party, Dr. Fischer and his guests explain some of the rules of engagement: If a guest follows all the rules, s/he receives a present (or prize) at the end of the meal. The presents are usually tailored to each guest and are worth a substantial amount of money. However, the rules include complete submission to the humiliations of Dr. Fischer, which always include barbed verbal taunts that focus on each guest’s failings or insecurities.

At this particular party, the dinner consists strictly of porridge. One guest asks for sugar, but Dr. Fischer only provides salt. Dr. Fischer explains to Jones that the guests must eat the porridge to receive their presents, and that this is all part of his experiment to see how far the rich will go to debase themselves for more riches. The guests all eat the porridge except for Jones, who earns himself the enmity of the Toads by abstaining. Jones doesn’t receive another invitation for some time.

Anna-Luise fills Jones in on the dissolution of her parents’ marriage. Her mother had developed a friendship with an employee of Kips, one of the Toads, based on their mutual love of Mozart. When Dr. Fischer found out, he paid Kips’ firm fifty thousand francs to fire the man, and then hounded his wife until she “willed herself” to die. Jones and Anna-Luise encounter the man, Steiner, in a local record shop, and Anna-Luise’s resemblance to her mother (Anna) gives Steiner a heart attack.

Meanwhile, he and Anna-Luise discuss having children, but she says she would prefer to wait until after the skiing season is over because she wouldn’t want to ski while pregnant. The two go on a skiing trip, and while Jones (who doesn’t ski) waits in the lodge, Anna-Luise collides with a tree after swerving to avoid a young boy who had sprained his ankle while skiing a course that was too tough for him. She suffers a severe head injury and bleeds enough to stain the front of her white sweater red. She later dies at the hospital, leaving Jones broken and lonesome. He attempts suicide by drinking whiskey laced with aspirin, but it only leaves him drowsy.

The next day he responds to an invitation to visit Dr. Fischer in his office. Dr. Fischer offers to give Jones the money held in trust for Anna-Luise, but Jones refuses it. Fischer is surprised, and asks Jones to attend his next dinner party with the Toads, which he promises will be the last.

This party - the “Bomb Party” of the novel's alternate title - fills the longest chapter of the book. The party is held outside sometime around New Year’s Day, and the guests are kept warm via enormous bonfires around Dr. Fischer’s lawn. The meal is exquisite. Following dinner, Dr. Fischer explains the rules for that night’s experiment. He has hidden six crackers in a bran bucket. Inside five of them are checks for two million francs apiece, with the name left blank. Inside the sixth is a small bomb. The guests are expected to draw crackers and open them one by one.

One of the toads, a stooped man named Kips, says that gambling is immoral and refuses to take part, leaving the party instead. Another, a hack actor named Deane, immediately goes into a role from one of his movies as a soldier volunteering for a dangerous mission, rambling dialogue to himself while he stands near the bucket. Two other Toads, the widow Mrs. Montgomery and the accountant Belmont, rush up and draw their crackers, realizing that the odds favor the earlier selectors. Both draw crackers with checks inside. Deane finally snaps out of his delusion long enough to draw a cracker, and when he finds a check inside, he passes out of either shock or inebriation.

This leaves just Jones and the retired military officer, the Divisionnaire. The Divisionnaire takes a cracker but won’t open it. Jones, still considering suicide as a way to avoid his lonely future, takes a cracker, opens it, and finds a check. The Divisionnaire remains paralyzed by fear, so Jones roots around for the last cracker (which would have gone to Kips) and opens it as well, finding the last check, meaning that the Divisionnaire must hold the bomb. While Dr. Fischer torments the Divisionnaire for his cowardice, Jones offers to buy the Divisionnaire’s cracker for two million francs. Over Dr. Fischer’s objections, Jones takes the fatal cracker and runs off into the snow, where he opens the cracker to find nothing. Steiner suddenly wanders up to Jones, saying he came to confront Dr. Fischer and to spit in his face. Dr. Fischer arrives and after a brief conversation about whether he has achieved his goals with his experiment, says that it is “time to sleep” but heads away from the house. A few moments later, Jones and Steiner hear a crack, and rush off to find Dr. Fischer, who has shot himself with a revolver.

The novel ends with Jones saying that he is no longer considering suicide and has even struck up a small friendship with Steiner where the two meet for coffee and mourn their lost loves. Jones says he rarely sees any of the Toads and avoids Geneva for the most part; he did once see Mrs. Montgomery, who called him “Mr. Smith,” allowing Jones to pretend he didn’t hear her and walk away.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
On completion I realised that just a couple of months ago I doubt if I could have finished this book. It is full of despair and depression yet is quite an enjoyable read non the less. The main story follow 'Jones' who works as an interpreter and marries the daughter of an uncaring millionaire. From that moment on the story follows the spiral of self destruction that follows 'Jones'.

His father-in-law also has this morbid self destructive streak but alleviates this by holding 'parties' where he humiliates his acquaintances or 'Toads' by making them suffer ever increasing humiliations in return for expensive presents.

Then 'Jones' wife dies suddenly and he is drawn into ever deeper depths of depression and decides that he will attend his father-in-laws 'Last Party' or 'The Bomb Party' of the title. The presents include a bomb that will kill the recipient if opened, leaving the others a share of a massive fortune.
Jones sees a way to join his wife but will he take the bait or will he be further humiliated in his despair like the 'Toads' have been in the past.

I could associate myself with the character of 'Jones' at the beginning but as the story went on I found myself pitying him in an odd sort of way but I don't think that was the authors main aim. An enjoyable read even though it is full of something I'm trying to escape. ( )
  sundowneruk | Feb 2, 2016 |
an odd little book. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Greeneprimary authorall editionscalculated
Braam, Aris J. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Who has but once dined his friends

has tasted whatever it is to be Caesar.
-- Herman Melville
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To my daughter, Caroline Bourget, at whose Christmas table at Jongny this story first came to me
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I think that I used to detest Dr. Fischer more than any other man I have known just as I loved his daughter more than any other woman.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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