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The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

The Ministry of Fear (original 1943; edition 1982)

by Graham Greene

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1,252209,979 (3.67)73
For Arthur Rowe, the trip to the charity fete was a joyful step back into adolescence, a chance to forget the nightmare of the blitzand the aching guilt of having mercifully murdered his sick wife. He was surviving alone, aside from the war, until he happened to guess both the true and the false weight of the cake. From that moment, he finds himself ruthlessly hunted, the quarry of malign and shadowy forces, from which he endeavors to escape with a mind that remains obstinately out of focus.… (more)
Title:The Ministry of Fear
Authors:Graham Greene
Info:New York : Viking press, 1982.
Collections:Your library, Letters

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The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene (1943)


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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
The story is incredibly involved, intricate and moves very slowly and deliberately. The writing is extremely evocative, which makes it a more intense read. I think this requires multiple readings to get the full experience. ( )
  grandpahobo | Sep 26, 2019 |
A weird if flawed meditation on morality and sanity in times of acute distress. I should consult my Norman Sherry but this one appears penned with a screenplay in mind.

Personally this conjures a blitz of memories. My good friend Steve once lived with a plucky poet by the name of Jennifer Priest. This all ended in an explosion of jealousy. I went over to comfort both of them in the aftermath. Jennifer was reading Ministry of Fear at the time. I wasn't overly familiar with Greene at the time. Ignoring the emotional distress of the moment, not to mention the broken furniture, she nodded and said, "its all about a cake." ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
A terrific thriller about a man who stumbles into a spy ring in WW2 London and becomes enmeshed in all sorts of problems, including losing his memory and winding up in a hospital. Greene puts the reader in the heart of London during the Blitz and many of the issues he explores are relevant to our politics today. ( )
  Sunita_p | Aug 16, 2017 |
Graham Greene originally divided his works into novels and 'entertainments', separating his popular work from those he wished his literary career to be remembered for. In later life, this distinction would be blurred until it was dropped entirely. The Ministry of Fear is one of these earlier works labelled an entertainment. Made a year later into a film directed by Fritz Lang, it was written in the middle of wartime, and on the surface is a typical espionage thriller in the tradition of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, dealing with a Nazi spy ring operating in London during the blitz. On its own, the plot is gripping enough to carry the book through to the end, and those bits we can regard as 'entertainment' made their way into the film.

But as with many of Greene's works, it's the inner conflict which is missing from the silver screen translation. We learn early on that the main protagonist is racked by guilt over the murder – what we would today most likely see only as a mercy killing – of his wife. This concentration on the individual, amid the scaled chaos of the blitz, makes this short novel so interesting. Much of it seems quite dated now, but there is still plenty of relevance in a society trying to come to terms with the issue of euthanasia.

Aside from the juxtaposition of a thrilling little spy plot and the psychological reflections, this short book is also an advert for Greene's art. The writing is simply superb, an absolute pleasure to read, full of inventiveness without the overt self-conceit of trying too hard. Another reviewer pointed out that this short novel took longer to read than he had imagined. I'd suggest that comes as a result of needing to read every word and understand it, not skim over lines of trite, repetitive text as in many other novels. To skim would be to rob oneself of most of the pleasure.

For me, Graham Greene remains the greatest English language novelist never to have won the Nobel Prize. As an entertainment, rather than a novel, The Ministry of Fear lends itself as an excellent introduction to his greater literature. ( )
1 vote Fips | Oct 30, 2016 |
In that case,’ Rowe said, ‘I keep the cake because you see I guessed three pounds five the first time. Here is a pound for the cause. Good evening.’
He’d really taken them by surprise this time; they were wordless, they didn’t even thank him for the note. He looked back from the pavement and saw the group from the cake-stall surge forward to join the rest, and he waved his hand. A poster on the railings said: ‘The Comforts for Mothers of the Free Nations Fund. A fête will be held . . . under the patronage of royalty . . .’

So begins Arthur Rowe's incredible story in which a mix up at a charity fete alters Arthur's life forever and throws him into the midst of espionage, politics, and murder.

The Ministry of Fear is Greene's 11th novel, yet, to me it represents the first of the series of books that forms the basis of my appreciation of his canon of work. Written in 1943, Greene combines elements of mystery and espionage and spices them up with gritty noir and anxieties lived out by the characters against the back-drop of war time London, where trust is mandatory but seldom warranted.

Welcome to Greeneland!

"A phrase of Johns’ came back to mind about a Ministry of Fear. He felt now that he had joined its permanent staff. But it wasn’t the small Ministry to which Johns had referred, with limited aims like winning a war or changing a constitution. It was a Ministry as large as life to which all who loved belonged. If one loved one feared." ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Few writers can distill drama from a twisted soul with more skill than Mr. Greene; few experts in the field would dare to combine all the elements you will find in "The Ministry of Fear." The novel begins as a case-history in psychiatry, and ends as a spy hunt, complete with roving Heinkels, pukka sahibs, and a pale Austrian beauty who keeps her enigma to the end. Only the Graham Greene fans will know how cunningly this English virtuoso endows his lumber-room items with life. "The Ministry of Fear" is top-hole entertainment and then some -- a guaranteed chiller to beat the first Summer heat-wave.
If you’re after brilliant writing and an exciting plot and don’t mind dodgy theology then Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear is the book for you.
Greene called his novel an ‘entertainment’ but it is clearly much more than that. Despite creating one or two implausible moments in the plot, Greene draws us into the action from the very first pages and doesn’t let us go. The descriptive writing is tremendous and the sense of fear is utterly palpable as Arthur Rowe, the novel’s anti-hero, flees for his life after getting caught up with a Nazi spy ring when attending a fête during the darkest days of the London blitz.

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greene, Grahamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Furst, AlanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schaap, H.W.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Have they brought home the haunch?
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There was something about a fete which drew Arthur Rowe irresistibly, bound him a helpless victim to the distant blare of a band and the knock-knock of wooden balls against coconuts.
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