CLIO READS

LOVING MR. GREENE: A NOVEL

By Gloria Emerson, Reviewed by Dr. Deanne Malpass

Loving Mr. Greene: A Novelis a brief, witty, sometimes sardonic and amusing homage to Graham Greene.   A former National Book Award winner for Winners and Losers , a study of the Vietnam war and recognized as a journalist for her fascinating Gaza: A Year with the Intifada, Gloria Emerson known for non fiction turned to literary fiction with Loving Mr. Greene.   Steeped in the twentieth century writer's novels of contemporary manners and morals, she pulls off a fascinating coup.   She parodies with almost complete success Greene's style, plot techniques and characters; moreover, she does so with sincere affection, ingenuity, zest and, most surprisingly, with disciplined economy.   This novel is short but robust.

The "hero" of Emerson's novel, generally unlike those of Graham Greene, is actually a heroine, Molly Benson.   Molly, like many American and British academics, having met the great man briefly in the Antibes, has enshrined Greene as the epitome of both literature and moral force for change.   The richness of that brief meeting has become Molly's obsession and convinced her that she and the late author became intellectual soul mates.   Pursuing the "friendship" devotedly by correspondence, Molly, the adoring fan, religiously solicits the great man's opinion over the years and he graciously responds with brief comments. The use of Greene's own letters adds a touch of comic reality to the novel that makes Molly's growing reverence amusing but sad.

Greene's death jars Molly into action. Her brother Harry, a journalist who, Molly believes, has died courageously in Algiers after spotlighting the dangers faced by dissident writers in that hot bed of repression and espionage, comes in her mind to be the prototypical Greene protagonist. With the loss of her beloved brother and the death of her revered mentor, Molly sets out on an adventure of her own. Like a miniature Don Quixote, she leaves for exotic Algiers, accompanied by a childhood friend and a recently met graduate student, both of whom are so inept that they make Molly Benson briefly appear a leader of men.

In Algiers the three bumblers, intent on rescuing "a few writers," by hiring, out of personal wealth, body guards who will protect the writers from fundamentalist critics or brutal police alike. Not surprisingly, the appearance of such small militia shakes the status quo. Molly and her growing band immediately foment their own brand of well intended but dangerous chaos. Like the five day tourist to Europe who returns a self styled expert on the Common Market, Benson and her well meaning followers share a willful blindness. Ultimately they provoke a spiraling violence, a vicious uprising, and leave Algiers a greater mess than they found it.  Their good intentions, their dogged determination, their inflexibility for compromise, their lack of pragmatic knowledge make for noble purpose, but tragic ending.

Unfortunately for Molly, there is no Sancho Panza to put things right, only a despairing recognition, as in so many of Graham Greene's novels, that goodness and moral outrage often are not enough to save the world. Indeed, Molly Benson comes - too slowly - to question her values, her preconceived certainties, her brother's death, even her understanding of Graham Greene. She is an outrageous, amusing, delusional and, in the end, deeply touching character and Emerson clearly loves her. Graham Greene would have. Treating Molly with ironic wit and moving compassion, Emerson makes the reader care almost as deeply about the price of Loving Mr. Greene .