Review of 'The Quiet American'

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

the_quiet_american.jpg Set during the French war in Vietnam the war-hardened, cynical newspaper correspondent Thomas Fowler meets the youthful, idealistic American CIA agent Alden Pyle. Fowler is happy – or at least complacent – with his life drinking, occasionally reporting on the war and sleeping with Phuong, a young former dancer. When Pyle develops an attraction to Phuong, with whom he wishes to establish a deeper relationship as opposed to the physical and dominant one offered by Fowler, the tension between the two begins to mount. Very quickly it becomes apparent that outside of their personal relationships Pyle's naivety is causing ever increasing loss of life: Can Fowler make Pyle see reason and shake off his ignorance of the reality he is creating?

A rather gritty tale from the dark world of a war. Unapologetic and in your face, Greene tells it like it is and turns his characters on their heads – What was once innocence is now anything but what was cynical becomes idealistic. I found often not really knowing where the story would go which kept me reading on. A relatively short novel at just under 200 pages (in my copy) the action takes some time to build but towards the end it ramps up and chaos ensues as Pyle's actions take centre stage then climaxing with a startling (well, to me) reveal at the end. Quite easy to read I can see some may find the material distasteful in it's fairly callous treatment of women (I am thinking this was likely what it was like for such people), for example, but sticking with it is rewarding.

The characters are very real and portrayed sympathetically. Despite being told from the perspective of Fowler he is often at pains to show that he understands (though most definitely does not approve) the thinking and actions of Pyle. The brutality of some of the action is shocking and presented vividly, drawing us into the situation.

Despite being given this book as a mocking “Secret Santa” gift at our company's Christmas Party (most likely in reference to the believed idea that I was the noisiest person in the office and being as close to an “American” as many there thought…despite being Canadian) I actually found this book very readable and fascinating. Perhaps over-flowery wording in parts it is an interesting story with believable characters which demands to read on to find out what happens.

Not a light read but an interesting take on the human condition in difficult circumstances.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2018-06-07

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Classics

Publication Date: 1955

ISBN: 9780099478393

Other reviewed books by Graham Greene: