The Third Man And The Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene
While I am slightly familiar with the writings of Graham Greene, I decided to make myself much more familiar with his writings by reading about twenty of his works over the course of the next month or so, and this happens to be the one I picked up first. One notable aspect of Greene’s writing was that it was very popular in his age of Hollywood, as numerous stories of his as well as novels have been turned into films. Obviously, those who like his somewhat cynical style (something that has been present in nearly all of the works of his I have read) are going to appreciate the comparison between his writing and the way that writing has been visualized, and in this book there are two stories of considerable significance within his body of work. To be sure, he wrote a lot more stories than that, but these two stories, one of which is far longer than the other, have a great deal to say about Greene’s thoughtful reflection on deception and human dignity and the problem of violence, all of which were his stock and trade as a writer.
The first of these two stories is the novella Greene wrote as the initial treatment for the film The Third Man. This story is set in postwar Vienna when it was under the joint rule of the four victorious powers of World War II, the Americans, English, French, and Russians. This story takes advantage of the complexity of that period and shows the dangerous results of a man getting caught up in a penicillin racket and manages to keep a great deal of suspense about a series of deaths that results from the various plotting and scheming of the characters involved in the story. The author is quick to praise the director and producer of the film with making his story come alive in stellar fashion, although the story is definitely well worth appreciating for its own considerable merits. The second, and shorter, story here, “The Fallen Idol,” is a very clever one that is told from the point of view of a boy whose world is filled with all kinds of lies and disguises, and whose innocent attempts at piercing the veil of deception lead to horrific consequences as his true state is revealed. It is impossible not to have at least some sympathy for the character’s plight, and Greeene ably stacks the deck to create a compelling story with a dramatic outcome.
Both of these two stories, therefore, are a good entrance into Greene’s literature as a whole, which is a substantial and accomplished body of work. While Greene was certainly a person who wrote with a rather cynical touch, there was always something deeper in his works, a poignancy that was capable of creating deep insights for the reader. Both of these stories have that effect, as the Third Man shows someone trying to investigate the supposed death of a “friend” of his who is involved in some shady business of adulterating penicillin for profit despite the damage it does to others that involves a series of murders in Vienna, and the Fallen Idol shows a kidnapped boy who belatedly realizes his precarious position and the fact that the kidnapper who he respects, perhaps even idolizes, is someone capable of great evil, including adultery and murder, as the police become involved in his troubled existence. Overall, the two stories are excellent and they do a good job at showing Greene’s work for its insight as well as its craft.