Book - The Honorary Consul
The Honorary Consul
"The Honorary Consul" is the first Graham Greene novel I've read, and it is easy to see why Greene has earned so many devoted fans and seemingly over-the-top superlatives over his long career. Based on this novel, Greene's strength seems to be creating a rich cast of characters, full of different tics, scars, dreams, virtues, and flaws, and dropping them into a plot of balanced tragedy and farce. By stirring great ingredients into a delicious recipe, Greene created a novel to savour and one, I would bet, improves with each reading. Set in an anonymous border town just on the Argentine side of Paraguay, "The Honorary Consul" focuses on the hapless, accidental kidnapping of Charley Fortnum, the titular honorary consul. A band of revolutionaries, lethally inept, swipe the British Fortnum instead of their target, the American ambassador, whom they wanted to exchange for political prisoners in the Paraguayan dictatorship nearby. Unfortunately for the kidnappers, Fortnum's title is more impressive than his station, and nobody is all that eager to save Fortnum, much less give in to the kidnappers' demands. Further adding to the travesty of the situation, Fortnum's only connection to the outside world is Dr. Plarr, a half-British, half Argentinian physician who is also having an affair with Fortnum's wife, a former prostitute. Plarr, whose father vanished into the Paraguayan prison system years ago, is a man incapable of emotion -- when it comes to relationships, he's good at the physics but not the chemistry. Plarr struggles to help the innocent Fortnum escape his looming fate -- if ten political prisoners are not released from Paraguay, the kidnappers will shoot Fortnum. Through his efforts both with the kidnappers and with several possible saviors, Plarr meets and interacts with a host of characters whose range of quirks and passions would be at home in a Casablanca cafe. Greene writes with an economic, spare prose that is nevertheless powerful, often using dialogue and soliloquies to advance the story rather than long-winded descriptions of setting. Clocking in at under 300 pages, "The Honorary Consul" is a riveting read that probably goes too fast on the first read. I plan on putting it aside for a few months before taking it up again . . . I'm sure I'll catch a bit more meaning the second time around, but there was plenty for the first trip through. A dark, occasionally depressing novel of lost opportunities, false passions, and the ultimate quest for truth, "The Honorary Consul" is a heck of a read. Check it out.