Written by Diane Newland, Darwin Bookseller
If our cataloguers see something rather special, the book equivalent of a celebrity, whether famous or infamous, they bring it up to the Darwin Rare Books Room. Our first class departure lounge for books.
Last week, who should arrive but a very juicy looking, vintage-green Graham Greene in the shape of a box set of The Great Novels, published by The Folio Society. Beautifully designed, as only to be expected from Folio, each book has one letter from Greene's first name and last name printed on the top and base of the spine.. I love that simple logic in design, and they line up in the order in which they were published. As I slip the books carefully out of their clothbound case, I get another juicy surprise. Each has a bold black and watermelon-red design printed on its green cloth cover. The designs are clean, strong and visually stunning. Can books really make your mouth water? Well, that's their effect on me, so yes they can, and I haven't even opened them yet.
Graham Greene is considered one of the greatest English novelists of the twentieth century and became renowned for his serious Catholic novels, as well as for his thrillers, which have all the suspense and swift moving plots, but with more depth and greater moral complexity than your conventional thriller.
Included in this Folio set are, The End of the Affair, The Heart of the Matter, The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock and A Burnt Out Case, in which Greene explores political and moral issues of the modern world, very much through a Catholic perspective, and with the religious themes of sin, spiritual struggles, and moral failure running throughout.
The remaining book in this set, The Quiet American, deals specifically with international political espionage and all the intrigues involved with that. Other works of his on a similar theme are; The Confidential Agent, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor, and his screenplay for The Third Man.
Greene was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966 and 1967, and was praised by William Golding for his accurate portrayal of twentieth century consciousness and the collective anxieties of the time. Greene was a master of storytelling and realistic dialogue, was fascinated by film, and used cinematic techniques in his writing. He was the writer of that period most aware of the power and influence of cinema, and many of his books have been made into spectacular, gritty films. All the books in this Folio set have strong, chiaroscuro-style, moody and dramatic illustrations, which perfectly match Greene's writing style. All very film noir.
Brighton Rock, written in 1938, is a fast paced literary thriller about gangsters and murder. The Power and the Glory, set in Mexico in the late 1920's tells the story of a morally flawed Catholic priest and explores questions of faith and power. The Heart of the Matter, set on Africa's West Coast, examines the moral dilemmas of a World War two British Major as he struggles, as Greene did himself, with the obligations of his marriage. The End of the Affair was also influenced by Greene's personal life. Both the other books in this set, The Quiet American and The Burnt Out Case, are also set far afield, Vietnam and the Congo respectively, and these varied international settings are also part of each story's particular atmosphere and intrigue.
Collecting Graham Greene's books continues to be a sound investment, judging by his enduring popularity, the sale price of his first editions, and the current market price of this set. This delicious collection is on sale for £280. Don't let your mouth water for too long over this well-travelled bad boy, or you will be disappointed, as he won't be hanging around for long, despite the tarry-a-while, first class lounging atmosphere in our Darwin room.
I will leave you with Greene's own words on books in general, which ring true for many of us, I'm sure (as one of our booksellers, Lauren, has so beautifully illustrated in her recent poem for Bookbarn, “The Books of Our Lives”).
“One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father's library had not contained the right books.”
We also absolutely love to hear from you! So do tell us, what are the pivotal books that have had an impact on you and are shaping your own journey through life?
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