The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Book - 1999
Average Rating:
6
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Tells the story of a good man enmeshed in love, intrigue, and evil in a West African coastal town.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 1999.
ISBN: 9780140283327
Characteristics: 242 p. ; 22 cm.

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d
dennismmiller
Jul 31, 2017

The protagonist of The Heart of the Matter, Major Henry Scobie, is an Assistant Commissioner of Police in an unnamed British African colony during the Second World War. Scobie is an honest, though not necessarily virtuous, man in a sink of corruption, but his apparent honesty only results in rumors of some secret, deeper, and more shameful corruption. Meanwhile, Scobie is unable to please either his superiors, who pass him over for promotion, or his wife Louise, who has been desperately unhappy since the death of their daughter, or the clandestine agent sent to investigate possible espionage, whose personal dislike of Scobie leads him to target the major, or the young widow with whom he begins an affair, but for whom he cannot leave his wife, or his God, to whom he is above all else responsible.

In a novel as bleak and gloomy as the seemingly neverending rains, Greene painstakingly maps "the wide region of repentance and longing" as Scobie works out his damnation with fear and trembling. If such a thing is really possible.

m
Moe1259
Jun 08, 2017

Sad lives. I do not believe that this story would have the same ending if written in 2017. Although the caracters are living in west Africa, this island of colonialism could be anywhere.

c
Candaceb108
Jan 08, 2017

Goddess, what a book. Amazing, for me much better than the end of the affair which I thought was dull. And the decision at the end so pointless. Amazing read, I think Greene let us touch his own heart, the point of it all, no?

f
francisking
Dec 19, 2016

GORDONMA!.....whaddya you some kinda "literary critic"?????
well.....hmmmmm......yes you ARE laddie!
your paragraphs 1&2 are sweet.
i have intentionally avoided all of your further paragraphs cuz i did not want to read any SPOILERS.
i intend to READ the book.
ergo..i shant read your assumedly erudite comments since i shall be reading the book as a virgin. i prefer that. its a fresher view. first time and all...eh?

ill comment further upon reading.

btw.....youre SMART.

whew!...

whaddya one of them 200 IQ fellas or what?

gordonma Apr 27, 2016

I remain divided about this book.

On one hand, The Heart of the Matter may have won Graham Greene the James Tait Black Prize in 1948, but it lacked the intimacy, the suspense, the rage, the spirituality, and the poetic sensuousness that made Graham’s later 1951 novel The End of the Affair his best.

On the other hand, this unhappy novel about unhappy selfish people who pity each other succeeds in transferring the shared apathetic disconnection between the characters to the reader and the book.

One of Greene's explicitly Catholic novels, The Heart of the Matter concerned Henry Scobie, a pretentious British policeman, who was stuck in an undesirable West African post during World War II disconnected from the locals, his co-workers, his wife, his career, God, and even his own sanity.

Regardless, Scobie was a man of many themes. He was the embodiment of failure. He was the nail that is caught stuck out regardless of his efforts not to stick out. He was, to summon the visage of John Donne, the island “entire of itself” and cut off from the main. And Scobie was also the destroyer of all things, and nothing that Scobie sought to protect or to enshrine failed to be corrupted and destroyed. Whether or not Scobie was a metaphor for the disconnection that modernity brought between individuals and individuals with God is really up for debate. But what was true was that Scobie, through his observations, set himself apart from the rest, judged others, pitied others, and took the lord's mantle in vain.

Regardless, all of that stuff could be interesting to read. That Scobie brought nothing but unhappiness to the people he loved the most—or more precisely the people he pitied the most—would have made an interesting book. However, The Heart of the Matter wasn’t written like that.

Rather than a novel that burns slowly before it rages out of control, Graham instead gave us a pilot light for 178 pages. And that pilot light only tantalizingly flickered in the last 60 pages before it fizzled out with an unrewarding, played-out ironic, and melodramatic borne out of paranoia and guilt. But perhaps, and as opposed to a combustible work like The End of the Affair, this was a more fitting, a more suitably bitter end for a novel full of bitter, unhappy people.

Louise in particular was not just unhappy in the end, but she was bitter because Scobie was dead she could never finally settle her scores with him. And even in death, Scobie's melodramatic attempt to save everybody from himself continued to haunt Louise, now a socially ostracized widow of a suicide. His death and his motives serve as a wedge between her and Edward Wilson, a man who, unlike Scobie, could actually reciprocate her interests and though not necessarily reciprocate her passions. And perhaps, empathy was that most vital thing missing from this book.

The characters in The Heart of the Matter pitied each other, judged each other, but none of the characters truly sought to grasp the needs and wants of the others. There's a very clinical selfishness and emotional void embedded in this novel, and perhaps there's a great lesson in it. However, those layers were so fine they just did not rise to the surface when they could have. Rating: 3.5/5 [2014-09-06]

l
lukasevansherman
May 24, 2014

"He felt the loyalty we feel to unhappiness-the sense that that is where we really belong."
The very prolific British author split his books into "entertainments" (usually with an espionage theme) and his more serious books, but his best are both entertaining and thoughtful. Written in the late '40s, "The Heart of the Matter" is a perennial contender for his best book (vying with "The Power and the Glory") and like many of his more serious books is about a burnt-out man trying to hold onto his faith and humanity in an out of the way place, in this case a British outpost in Africa. I recommend drinking pink gins whilst reading this.

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