Ok, so I don’t know if you’re one of the people who think The Heart of the Matter is among the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century — I’m not.
I like Graham Green, and his prose in this book is as beautiful as ever, but the rest: not so much. Throughout the reading I was balancing somewhere between melancholy and detachment and I could not muster empathy for Major Scobie or any other of the characters. It could have been intentional on Green’s part, I suppose, a means of evoking the impossibility to understand another person (one of the book’s themes). Fine. But even though it might be frustratingly true in life, this impassable gap between two minds, in a book it just did not work for me.
Even more unconvincing was the idea of pity as the driving force of relationships — pity for the wife, pity for the mistress, and “If one knew… the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets?” Bogus. As was all that Catholic guilt. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it did not ring true, is all.
One of the things that did resonate with me was the question of responsibility one takes when entering a relationship, the responsibility for the other’s happiness and for the way one will affect them. I certainly don’t think any one person is responsible for another to the extent Scobie did. But the pathological extreme aside, in the scene where he watches the women he’s involved with change (“In my school, he thought, they learn bitterness and frustration and how to grow old”), I felt a pang of recognition.
And now I can’t help but watch too. And I notice things, that weren’t there before.