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The Comedians by Graham Greene

The Comedians (1966)

by Graham Greene

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English (26)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Based on the introduction, it sounded as if I shouldn't bother reading the book. I'm glad I tried it out.

Some quotes:
'Most things disappoint until you look deeper.' [p. 12] (said by Mr. Smith, who wants to set up a vegetarian center in Haiti to reduce people's acidity and hence their passions, although not love).
  raizel | May 26, 2016 |
The Comedians is Greene's 1966 novel set in Haiti under François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier. A small group of classic Greene characters meet on a ship from the US to Haiti: Brown (the narrator) and Jones quickly recognise each other as cynical chancers who survive by trading on their dubious claim to belong to the English "officer class": Brown owns a tourist hotel in Port-au-Prince, where the tourist-trade has died thanks to the political conditions (it was based on the famous Hotel Oloffson, where Greene stayed), whilst Jones hints at military connections. Mr and Mrs Smith are naive American Liberals - veterans of the Civil Rights movement who see Haiti as the ideal place to promote vegetarianism and pacifism among the noble citizens of the free black republic (Brown rather cruelly points out to them that most of the population of Haiti is too poor to eat meat).

Greene had been the victim of a phone-book libel scam for one of his previous novels, so he made a point of choosing the most common names he could think of for this one, but the anonymity is not just superficial: neither Brown nor Jones has any real evidence of the existence of his British father, and their mothers are both adventurers without any known background.

Confronted by the brutal lawlessness of Haiti (personified by the evil Captain Concasseur) the Smiths get into a macabre political confrontation in which the body of a former minister is seized by the Tontons Macoute during his funeral, whilst Brown, despite his cynicism, finds himself having to assist members of an anti-Duvalier partisan group and having to rescue Jones when his attempt to con the government out of a few millions goes wrong. And Jones, as we have already heard in the opening chapter, achieves a noble death despite himself.

It struck me, re-reading this after reading a string of books by Caribbean writers, how different and more restricted Greene's external view is. He exposes the fear, poverty and brutality, of course, but he doesn't put it into any specifically Haitian historical context: he seems to regard it as the sort of thing that happens naturally if you let people mismanage their own affairs. His only real political point is that the US has to take its share of the blame for not intervening to limit Duvalier's excesses. It could almost be Kipling and the "white man's burden". And a lot of the book is dedicated to establishing the course of Brown's sexual relationship with a married woman that doesn't really seem to do anything except confirm his moral emptiness and bring in a bit of sex-interest. There are nuances, of course: black Haitians appear not just as caricature villains but also as sympathetic minor characters (a communist doctor, a barman crippled by the Tontons Macoute, ...). But ultimately, this is a book about dodgy expat Brits against an exotic background. Greene was certainly a great writer, but I don't think the book really lived up to my memories of reading it forty years ago. ( )
1 vote thorold | Feb 17, 2016 |
Three men meet on a ship en route to Haiti during a time when the country was overrun with corruption. Brown, an Englishman born on Monte Carlo, is something of a vagabond who makes his living wherever and however he can. He is returning to the hotel his mother left him and his affair with a South American ambassador's wife. Smith is a philanthropist whose goal is to start a vegetarian center. Even after experiencing the extreme poverty of the citizens and the brutality of the President's secret police force, his naivety still leads him to believe that he can help somehow. The third man is the mysterious Major Jones. He tells a lot of impressive stories about his past, but for some reason, the others just don't seem to believe him. Once the ship lands, these three men don't seem to be able to go their separate ways, and their lives are intertwined for as long as they remain on the island.

The political and economic situation described in the novel are historically accurate. Life in Haiti was miserable for many years for the majority of the population. This makes the novel difficult to read, but it also makes it an important book for people to read. Greene did a good job with this book. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
This 1966 novel is the 11th book by Greene I have read. It seems to be intended more as a vehicle to show Greene's disapproval of Duvalier than anything else. There can be no doubt of the badness of the events in Haiti while Duvalier was there. The novel's narrator is Brown, a fallen-away Catholic who owns a hotel in Haiti which he inherited from his mother, who had as her lover a doctor who apparently was a Communist. Greene shows that being a Duvalier supporter is a greater evil than being a Communist. The book is supposed to have suspense in it, but I did not find myself caught up by suspense. But Greene is indeed a facile storyteller. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Nov 17, 2014 |
This is without exception my favorite Graham Green novel. Love and murder in 1960's Haiti among the evil Papa Doc Duvalier's Tonton Macute. I cannot recommend it highly enough. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
First published nearly 40 years ago, Greene's novel about a world-weary hotelier in the darkest days of the Duvalier dictatorship was inevitably banned in the country. It would be comforting to read it now as a historical record of a different era but sadly the night in Haiti has deepened further and if Greene were to return he would find no shortage of the corruption and violence that acted as a backdrop to The Comedians.

Most of all, God is a failure. God is like the British army: He loses almost every battle, and only at the end, if repentance comes in time, may He win the war. For most of the time, Evil wins, turning good intentions to bad ends and bringing all to ruin. I think we should remember that the God who created Greeneland has been more than seven days in doing it, and has not yet rested. He is Mr. Greene himself. And if the land itself might be a miserable enough place in which to live, the God who creates it does so with so much liveliness and skill, and with such a will and ability to please and carry us along, that for those of us who are merely tourists and not the doomed inhabitants it is an exciting land to visit.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, John Bowden (Jul 12, 1966)

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Graham Greeneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Theroux, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"...aspects are within us, and who seems
Most kingly is the King."
--Thomas Hardy
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When I think of all the grey memorials erected in London to equestrian generals, the heroes of old colonial wars, and to frock-coated politicians who are even more deeply forgotten, I can find no reason to mock the modest stone that commemorates Jones on the far side of the international road which he failed to cross in a country far from home, though I am not to this day absolutely sure of where, geographically speaking, Jones's home lay.
'Only the nightmares are real in this place.'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039199, Paperback)

One of Graham Greene's most chilling and prophetic novels, The Comedians is set in a Haiti ruled by Papa Doc and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Just as The Quiet American offered a preview of the coming horrors of American involvement in Vietnam, this novel presages the chaos in Haiti. Classic Graham Greene.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Three men, Brown, Smith, and Jones, meet on a ship bound for Haiti, where "Papa Doc" and the Tontons Macoute rule, with sinister secret police."

» see all 4 descriptions

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