Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Graham Greene was a Difficult Man

I love memoirs about writers by other writers.  They can be catty, gossipy, filled with spite and jealousy, or (not as much fun) they can be reverential.  Not often are they all that balanced. But I just read one that does have that balance - Greene on Capri, by Shirley Hazzard.  Hazzard had a long acclaimed career, and she writes about her friendship with Graham Greene from the years she and her husband, the critic Francis Steegmuller, like Greene, stayed for long periods on the Mediterranean island of Capri.  Greene owned a house there, as did Hazzard and her husband, and over the course of their time on the island, she got to know Greene well. He was, to put it bluntly, a thorny type of person, which I guess comes as no surprise if you've read his books.  A contrarian to the bone, impatient, restless, blunt sometimes to the point of rudeness.  Not exactly someone who generally held women in high regard.  But to his friends (and women he apparently respected, like Hazzard) he could be warm and generous, a good listener.  Hazzard captures the various sides of this complicated person, and she weaves her Greene remembrances into a look at the very rich literary history of the island. It's had quite a history, Capri, dating back to the 11 years Roman emperor Tiberius spent there by his own desire, ruling the entire empire from this rocky place. It's the place, later, where Jean-Luc Godard shot his great film adaptation of Alberto Morovia's novel Contempt. A lush Mediterranean place with a fascinating history, and this book is a knowing idiosyncratic look at a peculiar man, Graham Greene. He's long been among my favorite writers, and I really enjoyed Hazzard's nuanced take on him, with all his knots and less than likeable features. 

His writing method, by the way, for those interested in what Greene did to be such a prolific writer (26 novels, 2 volumes of autobiography, travel books, plays, many short stories, essays, lots of movie scripts), was a daily writing goal of 500 words a day.  He described his method himself in his book, The End of the Affair:
"Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript."
Damn, when you put it like that, Mr. Greene, it sounds easy.

1 comment:

Art Taylor said...

I'm a fan of Greene's work--and like you, I think his approach makes it sound so easy. (So what the heck and I doing, huh?) Sounds like a fascinating book here too, and Hazzard's own fiction is fascinating too, of course. Will check it out.