The gripping tragi-comedy of a bungled kidnapping in a provincial Argentinean town tells the story of Charley Fortnum, the 'Honorary Consul', a whisky-sodden figure of dubious authority, who is taken by a group of revolutionaries.
As Eduardo Plarr, a local doctor, negotiates with revolutionaries and authorities for Fortnum's release, the corruption of both becomes evident.
©1973 Graham Greene; (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
Tim Pigott-Smith does an excellent job of reading this book, creating a series of readily indentifiable voices for all of the protagonists.
The story itself is classic Greene and it authentically captures the humidity, sleaze and ennui of it's setting in a town on the banks of the river that marks the border between Argentina and Paraguay. It is well plotted, has great characters and explores issues of nationality, idealism and, as always with Graham Greene, the catholic church.
Why only four stars then? Well, there is a section in the book in to which the author uncharacteristically clumsily shoehorns a discussion on religion that goes on rather longer than necessary to drive the plot and is presumably there to allow Graham Greene a platform on which to share his views of the roman church. Please don't let this put you off though - this is a really good story, beautifully read.
I couldn't recommend this reading of The Honorary Consul to anyone, friend or otherwise. I think most people I know who would be interested in hearing a novel set in Argentina in the seventies have some Spanish or know people from Latin America. I think this reading will annoy them for the simple reason that even when the characters are, one imagines, all speaking in Spanish, Tim Piggott-Smith puts on an exaggerated "South American" accent. He has a fine reading voice and his English characters are well defined. However, each Argentinian or Paraguayan character takes on a husky or whining tone, accompanied by what can only be described as a cod Mexican lilt, culled from a combination of bad Westerns, Manuel from Fawlty Towers (I know, he was supposed to be Spanish), and Mel Blanc's voicing of Speedy Gonzalez. This renders the later part of the book unlistenable. As we begin to hear more about the kidnappers motives, it's hard to take what they say seriously and weigh up the validity of their words, as their speech is delivered in a way that makes them sound fatuous. I struggled through to the end of the book, but I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone else.
Not having read much English writing from this period, to me the style is most reminiscent of John Le Carré, though the comparison probably works better the other way, as Greene is the forerunner of the two, though they do share some similarities of social and professional background. Elegant, flowing prose is how I would describe it, with, for the main part, well drawn, three dimensional characters. Again, my sense that some of the characters are only sketched in, notably Clara and most of the Paraguayan kidnappers, possibly comes from my hating the ridiculous accents given them by the reader.
I think it would be wrong to blame the reading entirely on Tim Piggott-Smith. I imagine that the director had insisted on the foreign accents. Perhaps this choice was made in an attempt to replicate the effect of the movie with Michael Caine, rather than staying faithful to Greene's text. Who knows? If only the characters, when speaking in their native tongues, had been given English accents, this might have been a superb reading of the novel.
There might have been moving moments in this novel but if so, the mannerisms of the reader ruined them.
I'll have to read the text of this book to really get the impact of the work.
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