Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Power and the Glory (by Graham Greene)

Beautifully written, highly symbolic, extremely grim. This is the story of a "whisky priest" in Mexico, at a time when Catholicism is illegal. If he's caught, he will be shot. And there's a lieutenant chasing him, and a bunch of other characters whose lives intersect with his.

This book reminded me a little bit of Flannery O'Conner, who explores Catholicism in her work in a similar way--through very flawed characters and without any simplistic answers. The ideas here are interesting, if you like thinking about religion. In a way it's a story of redemption, but a very anti-heroic type of redemption. I really enjoyed the Sparknotes on this book; they enhanced my understanding of the text, even when I didn't quite agree with all of their conclusions. (Here's one quote: "Many things are abandoned in this novel, and the words 'abandoned' or 'abandonment' crop up repeatedly... It is an important motif, because it implicitly raises the most important question, whether human beings have been abandoned by God and left to the cruelty of nature and each other.")

Ultimately, even though the world of the book is rather horrible and Bad Things Happen to Animals and Children, I appreciated it for its symbolic qualities and some beautiful writing. I also love the trope of the lawman who is pursuing someone out of this misguided sense of justice... the lieutenant and the whisky priest are basically Javert and Jean Valjean, without the catchy music.

"It infuriated him to think that there were still people in the state who believed in a loving and merciful God. There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy--a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all. He knew." (p. 25)

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