The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

The dentists operating-room looked out on a yard where a few turkeys moved with shabby nervous pomp: a drill which worked with a pedal, a dentists chair gaudy in bright red plush, a glass cupboard in which instruments were dustily jumbled.

I’m going to say potential spoiler alert here, it’s not blatant, but you can probably work it out if you haven’t read the book or don’t know the ending. Just saying.

Hailed as Greene’s masterpiece, I picked The Power and the Glory to follow up The Honorary Consul as the priest in that is referred to at one point as a whisky priest and so I thought I would follow the reference.

Set during the persecution of the clergy in Mexico, the unnamed whisky priest is on the run, although, perhaps on the meander would be a more appropriate term,  to safety.  However he cannot renounce either his faith or those that ask for his administrations. And despite an aetheist Lieutenant tracking him down remorselessly, he detours and deviates to help those in need, many times at his own cost.

There are other characters that file in and out, including Mr Tench, who seems to be destined for bigger things early on before disappearing for a large swathe of the book and popping up again later on.  The same with the Fellows family, who provide a fleeting trace of life on the river before disappearing even from their own house.

By the end I felt the priest could not have taken any other path, his pride had kept him in harms way, and despite his attempts to run, he never fully committed to it, knowing he had sinned to much to forgive himself, or ask for it for himself, he could not have altered his destiny.  The mestizo, who clearly intends to betray the priest, stirs his compassion and perhaps finally overcomes the weariness of the struggle.
But the Lieutenant seemed much more intriguing.  When he has the priest in jail without realising and sets him free, I was convinced he knew what he was doing, though later on he denies this.  He is driven by a reasoned hatred of religion and of the clergy, yet this hatred does not fully overcome his compassion.  The vehemence in his conversation with the priest at the end was betrayed by the interest in the priests life, an acknowledgement that although he hated everything the priest stood for, he could still separate the cloth from the man.

I’m convinced I missed entire levels of this book, the seemingly random introduction of peripheral characters disorientating me, and I thought maybe at the end they demonstrated the impact of the priest, whose redemption would come from the small good he effected in their lives, but that wasn’t clear to see.

I think I personally prefer The Honorary Consul, I found the characters in that, as well as the storyline much more engaging, but I will no doubt delve into this again and hopefully will find a much more richer experience.

In three days, he told himself, I shall be in Las Casas: I shall have confessed and been absolved, and the thought of the child on the rubbish-heap came automatically back to him with painful love. What was the good of confession when you loved the result of your crime?

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2 thoughts on “The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

  1. I was fascinated by this book and I think the key to it lies in Greene’s Catholicism. The true salvation of the priest lies not in some humanist notion of helping others etc but in his final devotion to the creed – his willingness to die for his beliefs – however flawed he was as a man he becomes a kind of saint. I’m not religious personally, but Greene was and I think this rather unfashionable, hard-line view that faith is what counts permeates the book.

  2. That certainly makes a lot sense, especially when the priest is questioning not just his faith but the creed also all the way through the book, particularly in relation to his child, yet he still can not renounce his faith. Thanks for the comment.

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