Archive for November, 2012

i thought graham greene‘s – the power and the glory  would provide an interesting comparison with our recent bookgroup on lacuna by barbara kingsolver, because it starts in mexico just before the period described in lacuna. As it turned out, the 70 year time difference, and the authors’ viewpoints, made them completely different propositions.

Bookgrouper’s enjoyed Greene’s writing. He relentlessly, vividly, painted a grey, drab depressed world – reminiscent of ‘the road’ i thought. He also relentlessly and vividly painted what he saw as the crisis of conscience, morals, belief, call it what you will, of his protagonist – the whiskey priest.

The priest believes himself to be an adulterer, a drunk, a proud, ambitious, falsely pious fraud, and a greedy coward. in short, a very bad priest. Nevertheless, some years after all the other priests have been, captured, shot or fled to neighbouring states, he remains, and when opportunity arises says mass, takes confession etc.

Greene makes a great deal of this contradiction. As a catholic convert himself, greene thinks this is a tremendously challenging scenario. to him, however bad the priest is, or whatever his motives are, he is doing good. he is saving souls by providing communion and confession. he is literally allowing people into heaven who cant get there without a priest’s intervention in the form of the catholic sacraments.

He then emphasises it even more with two plot twists that turn the screws on what he obviously sees as irresolvable moral choices.

Firstly he has the baddy of the story take a hostage from every village and start shooting them one by one till they hand over the priest. This sends our ‘bad priest’s’ guilty conscience into overdrive as he believes innocent peasants are dying for him – the very unworthy whiskey priest – but if he goes or gives himself up no peasants will get the sacraments?

Next, the priest finally decides to leave and crosses just over the border into safety, rests a few days in a peaceful village, and interestingly quickly falls back in to his old greedy, falsely pious, priestly ways. he is about to move on to a civilised city, when a known traitor finds him him and tells him a murderer is dying and wants absolution before he dies.

Greene thinks this is the ultimate in moral conflict. The priest goes with the traitor knowing he is being led into the arms of the police to be shot, but also believing that if there is a chance the murderer is dying and does want absolution he should give it.

If you suspend your disbelief, take on the mind set of the character and Greene, then you can see all this moral agonising is very well thought out and complex and interesting, and some bookgroupers got a lot from that.

Unfortunately for me, as an ex-catholic, i just felt it beautifully detailed the consequences you buy yourself, and the peasants who trust you, when you believe in magical nonsense like heaven, repentance, confession, and the transubstatiation of the body and blood of christ. Poor and innocent people die for nothing.

So the book may have been a classic in its time, but for me, the best part of a century later it felt well out of date. It felt like it painted a very colonial, rascist, somewhat cartoonish picture of mexico. This made the contrast with ‘the lacuna’ acute. Written in our time about mexico only a few years later, it felt thoroughly contemporary, vibrant and real. However, I have to be honest I have never been to Mexico so i am in no position to judge.

To emphasise that my view of the book may be a long way from universal, one bookgrouper who has spent time in mexico liked the book a lot, and felt the description of landscape etc was on the money.

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November 10, 2012 at 5:30 am Leave a comment


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