Monday, May 10, 2010

The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955)

Our latest book club read (Go DAFFODILS!) is The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955). I had only read one other Greene book (The Man Within, Greene's first novel, which I reviewed here) -- but from what I heard it wasn't really representative of Greene's other work, so I was very interested to read some more.

I was, however, pretty familiar with the plot of The Quiet American, having seen both the Joseph L. Mankiewicz version from 1958 (starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave), and the Phillip Noyce version from 2002 (starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser). I thought both versions of the movie were pretty good -- I liked the 50s one better, but Brendan Fraser gave a great performance as the American in the recent film.

The basic plot has our narrator, cynical British journalist Thomas Fowler living with his mistress of two years, Phuong, in an apartment in Saigon as he covers the French war and smokes his nightly opium. Fowler loves (or at least believes he loves) Phuong and would marry her except that his estranged wife back in England is a Catholic and won't give him a divorce. One night at a hotel bar, Fowler meets a naive young American government worker named Alden Pyle who just arrived in Vietnam from his college days at Harvard. Fowler enjoys playing the wise and experienced Englishman to Pyle's fresh-faced and straight-talking American. Or at least he does until Pyle falls in love in Phuong.

I won't get into too many of my thoughts on the book (since I want to try and remember those for book club), but I will say that I really enjoyed this. The book is expertly constructed and I could pull out dozens of sentences from the novel that couldn't be more perfect. Neither Fowler nor Pyle are admirable men, but the ways in which they fool themselves and each other make for an exciting psychological thriller, with a good dose of philosophy and politics on the side.

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