And so faith came to me – shapelessly, without dogma, a presence above a croquet lawn, something associated with violence, cruelty, evil across the way. I began to believe in heaven because I believed in hell, but for a long while it was only hell I could picture with a certain intimacy – the pitch-pine partitions of dormitories where everybody was never quiet at the same time; lavatories without locks: ‘There, by reason of the great number of the damned, the prisoners are heaped together in that awful prison …’;
I feel like I’m a relatively late-comer to Greene, and what I’ve read so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, particularly his comedies. I was quite looking forward to reading a travelogue by him, particularly in a part of the world I have a fascination for, and even the guy behind the till in Daunt books said this was a great book.
And, it is a great book, I just didn’t like it. Commissioned to write about the Catholic purges taking place in Mexico at the time, and the reaction of the mostly religious population, Greene packs his bags and sets off with a journalistic eye and poised pen.
Given the situation at the time, Greene depicts his journey honestly, from the transportation to the people he meets, from Generals hidden in the mountains to local guides, as he traverses Tabasco and Chiapas. It is perhaps this honesty that I struggled with, for me this came out as long moan, a whinge, not about what was being done to the Catholics, but about Greene and the labours of his journey. He spends a lot of time waiting for planes or boats and the slog of the travelling wears him down considerably, particularly by the end of the book, in which he actively hates Mexico.
It could be me, Greene’s honesty amply paints just how hard travelling was then, and how far it has come now where travellers can have everything booked and organised before they leave their front door, but I felt like I was wading through the book. When he commented on the hidden Catholicism and the effect of the purge on the people, I struggled to find an interest, so worn down was I by the travails of Greene himself.
It’s a shame, perhaps I’ll re-read it again one day and see it differently, I love his fiction and while the prose and style was the same, I couldn’t enjoy it.
I have no sympathy with those who complain of the wealth and beauty of a church in a poor land. For the sake of another peso a week, it is hardly worth depriving the poor of such rest and quiet as they can find in the cathedral here. I have never heard people complain of the super-cinemas – that the money should be spent in relief – and yet there’s no democracy in cinema: you pay more and you get more; but in a church the democracy is absolute.