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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

For Arthur Rowe the charity fête was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget 20 years of his past and a murder. 

Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he's a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.

©2020 Graham Greene (P)2020 Penguin Audio

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England, cake and guilt.

Written in 1943 this is an espionage thriller set in a London during the Blitz. It satisfies most as a piece of highly-honed period styling, being a take on the late Surrealism so trendy at the time. Thus, the protagonist's tragic quest through shabby reality is set in a theatre of dream and memory. I enjoyed this fusion of pulp mystery thriller and self-conscious artiness.

The clean modernity of Greene's prose lifts the artificiality of an ornate plot clear of the sort kitschy commercial surrealism which second-raters of the time seemed prone to. You can easily imagine it as a vehicle for Hitchcock to have adapted cinematically, being full of quirky characters and scenic details and shot-through with angsty atmosphere.

However, striking though it is as a piece of pop style, as a thriller with pretentions to literary substance it doesn't quite convince. I find the artificiality of the far-fetched plot makes the deeper underlying themes of spiritual quest in a nihilistic world seem a bit contrived and pretentious. The author's constantly trying to go for a sophisticated polish which comes off as a sort of sales pitch for a dark personal consciousness. In short, the fit isn't invisible enough to achieve the ambition. You get the sneaking impression that Greene is grooving on the blackness of Greeneland a little too much to be the truly classy adult entertainment he's aiming at.

I don't know where critics place the book in the author's oeuvre, but I'd guess it's not rated as being even in the same division as his later stuff.

But if you're up for a bit of slick period pop, go for it.

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  • Craig
  • 02-10-20

Bizarre but intriguing

It is quite a bizarre story and at times difficult to follow, but intriguing at the same time. You want to know what happens next!