Author Graham Greene led a complicated and fascinating life: He worked in espionage for MI6, traveled widely, and maintained a Catholic faith that pervaded his work and gave him a complicated relationship with the British literati of his era—to say nothing of his own messy personal life and marriage. And, in the midst of all of this, Greene somehow found time to become one of the greatest writers of his century.
Which brings us to the subject at hand: Graham Greene’s books. He wrote many, and you could hardly go wrong with any of his titles. But choices can be daunting, so we’re helping you narrow down your to-read list with this selection of the best Graham Greene books!
Unlike some literary giants, Graham Greene was never afraid to make his novels exciting. Case in point: Brighton Rock, his 1938 page-turner about gangsters and murders. Brighton Rock combines fast-paced action with superior writing to create a thriller than never feels like literary junk food.
The Power and the Glory
The Power and the Glory tells the story of a renegade Catholic priest living in Mexico. The novel is set in the late 1920s, at a time when the Mexican government was attempting to suppress the Catholic Church. Considered one of Greene’s masterpieces, The Power and the Glory makes beautiful use of its flawed protagonist as it examines questions of faith and power.
Related: The Life and Genius of Graham Greene
The Ministry of Fear
Having entered the height of his career with The Power and the Glory, Graham continued to produce some of his best work in the 1940s and 1950s. The Ministry of Fear is a spy novel set in World War II. With the London Blitz still a fresh memory to many of his readers, Graham wove a smart and compelling contemporary novel.
The Heart of the Matter
The Heart of the Matter is another of Graham Greene’s true masterpieces. Set on Africa’s West Coast during World War II, The Heart of the Matter describes the mental and moral crises of Major Henry Scobie, a British man who has served for years as assistant police commissioner. Scobie’s struggles with his marriage and moral obligation were, no doubt, informed by Greene’s own.
The End of the Affair
At the height of his literary career, Greene found his personal life embroiled in complexity and scandal. A converted and devout Catholic, Greene could not leave his failing marriage. He carried on an affair, and his personal struggles influenced the writing of this famous book about an extramarital affair and its eventual demise.
The Quiet American
Another of Greene’s most famous and respected novels, The Quiet American is also among his most enduring and most prescient. Set in Vietnam, this novel examines the increasing involvement of Americans in the region and the dangers of American exceptionalism. The Quiet American is set during the First Indochina War between the French and the Vietnamese, but it in many ways anticipates the American role in the region that would lead the Vietnam War and its 1960s and 1970s escalations.
Our Man in Havana
Greene wrote several novels that drew on his experience as an intelligence officer for MI6. But Our Man in Havana stands out, in part because of its use of humor. Greene’s expertise is obvious, but he spends much of this novel making intelligence services – including, and especially, Britain’s MI6 – look pretty foolish. Our Man in Havana mocks its spies for, among other things, being overly credulous toward local informants.
A Burnt-Out Case
Like much of Greene’s best work, A Burnt-Out Case is set far from his English home: In this case, the setting is a leper colony in the Congo. Lepers in hopeless condition are called “burned-out cases,” a term that Greene then turns on his protagonist, a celebrated architect fleeing a life that has made him mentally and emotionally “burnt out.”
Set in Haiti under the rule of totalitarian president François Duvalier, The Comedians is not a funny book. Its titular comedians are a trio of white men, who react in different ways to the rising tide of fear and violence in Haiti. Particularly prominent is the character of Brown, an English hotelier who observes Haiti’s horrors with sardonic detachment.
A Sense of Reality
This collection of short stories from Graham Greene proves his versatility as a writer. Dipping his toes into the genres of mythology, magic realism, and dystopia Greene’s writing comes to life in a brand new way. In “Under the Garden” a wandering loner named William Wilditch takes one final journey to his childhood home where he unpacks his early memories. Meanwhile stories like “A Discovery in the Woods,” where a group of children explore post-apocalyptic ruins near their village, push Greene’s writing abilities to new limits. As a departure from his roots in realism, this collection of stories is definitely a must-read for fans of Greene.
It's a Battlefield
This morally ambiguous novel from Greene has no villains or heroes, but just characters who want to protect themselves and the people they love. The novel opens with Jim Drover and his wife advocating for communism in a pre-World War II London. When an officer violently attempts to apprehend Jim’s wife, Jim stabs the man to death in order to protect her. Jim is later arrested and sentenced to death, which causes even more political unrest in the already divided city. Jim’s single action inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will change not only the lives of those closest to him, but the entire city forever.
Loser Takes All
Graham Greene’s Loser Takes All is a wild ride that will have readers chuckling with every page turn. The novel focuses on a couple, Mr. Bertram and his fiancé Cary, who are to be married. The couple plans on having just a simple ceremony and honeymoon, but Mr. Bertram’s boss, Herbert Dreuther, thinks they should go all out for the event. Herbert essentially takes over the entire planning of the event, and even goes the extra mile by forcing Bertram to stay at the luxurious Hôtel de Paris after they sail on Herbert’s yacht. After thinking it over, the couple agrees to all of these extravagant purchases, and proceeds with the plans. But when Herbert fails to show up to the hotel for several weeks, the couple find themselves trapped in an insurmountable debt that they have no way of paying off. But to their luck, there’s a casino nearby, and Betram thinks that gambling might be their way out.
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