Graham Greene: The Entertainer

Graham Greene: The Entertainer

Graham Greene: The Entertainer

Graham Greene: The Entertainer


Until 1970,Graham Greene made a sharp distinction between his novels and his lighter fiction, which he called entertainments. The use of the two categories seems to indicate that the latter books are trivial and inferior; yet Peter Wolfe shows that the entertainments are more than escape fiction; they are, rather, an almost distinct new genre.

Wolfe focuses on seven books, from Orient Express (1932) to Our Man in Havana (1958),showing recurring themes as well as the evolution of the entertainment form.

Graham Greene enthusiasts will find this newbook particularly valuable for its long and careful look at the less-discussed works, while readers of thrillers will appreciate Wolfe's analysis of them as a literary genre.


The status of Graham Greene among modern novelists is a matter of continuing disputation. A few years ago, in London, a friend of Greene's assured me that Greene is a far better writer than Conrad.

Over the years, most of us have accepted Greene's division of his work into novels, short stories, essays, travel books, and plays, along with what he called entertainments. At least that's the way his writing was denominated at the front of his books, evidently Greene's own classification. But a surprise came with the publication, in 1969, of his novel Travels with My Aunt: here the entertainments were assembled in the category headed "novels."

Professor Wolfe (of the University of Missouri at St. Louis) deals specifically with the books Greene used to call entertainments; before this, they haven't received the emphasis of a separate study. This study begins with some comments about that disputed status of Greene, noting that "only a solid, far-ranging artistry could admit so many critical approaches; only a warm human touch, coupled with a keen understanding of modern life, could win such a wide popularity." And it quotes Greene as saying, in 1961, that the entertainments were a relief from the prolonged tension brought on by the writing of novels.

Many of us who have read Greene with enthusiasm . . .

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