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An Autobiographical tour through Greene-land; Ways of Escape; by Graham Greene. New York: Simon & Schuster. $12.95.

By Victor HowesVictor Howes teaches English at Northeastern University. / February 9, 1981



There are two Graham Greenes. It is simplest to describe them as Graham Greene the man, and Greene the writer. G. G. the man objects a certain well-worn tough-guy image: bon vivant, pub-crawler, ladies' man, war correspondent, undercover agent, occasional smoker of opium.

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Greene the writer projects another sort of image: student of technique, sensitive receiver of dreams and other messages from the "cave of the unconscious," that mysterious outpost of imagination, reader of Henry James and Joseph Conrad, reader of books on theology, patient recorder of impressions: on his iron hut roof in Nigeria, "six vultures . . . perched like old broken umbrellas."

It is simplest to isolate the two Greenes, to segregate the man and the writer into two halves of a split-level personality. But they are always merging. In unlikely places. On an Israeli sand dune by the Suez Canal, under Egyptian mortar fire:

"When the cease fire failed to arrive at four and again at four-fifteen (we had been lying on the dune now in the heat of the afternoon for two hours) irritation began to set in. I felt like Henry James listening to an anecdote at the dinner table that went on too long for his purposes."

Greene in a foxhole. James at the dinner table. Such is the bifocal effect of this autobiography-cum-travelogue. Greene has an uncanny eye for the details of such uneasy marriages. The climate of hysteria. Here is another such juxtaposition of peace and war. British colonials surprised at polo by an ambush:

"Polo players rode off into the forest carrying their polo sticks in the search for Mau Mau hideouts."

This is indeed Greene-land, the spot on the novelist's map where two worlds meet. It is to be found in the jungles of Malaya where Greene accompanies friendly Gurkhas on patrol. They capture some Communist documents, "written in that script running backwards in a beautiful formal pattern . . . made by the brush." And what are the brushstrokes saying? They record topics for the Marxist guerrillas to discuss:

1. Why is the love of Communists a serious instinct?

2. What is the proper view of love?

3. Are the present few kinds of improper love still appearing in our area?

Topics for schoolboys on a bivouac with Outward Bound? Hardly. These "schoolboys" emerge from the jungle to "shoot up a car or a patrol, to murder a planter, to derail a train."

The reader of Graham Greene's novels will already be familiar with the bizarre derailments of Greene's juxtaposed images. In the retrospective "Ways of Escape" the reader will be reintroduced to the novelist's career from 1929 to the present. "Bright on Rock," "The Heart of the Matter," "A Burnt-Out Case," "Our Man in Havana." Old favorites in new forms. The reader will see the forge and anvil where the novels were hammered out.

Greene himself is a Greene hero. A man with a divided conscience, half saved , half doomed, a man with a checkered past and a dubious future, riding the promise of grace, uncertain of the promise. A man in quest of "laughter in the shadow of the gallows."

The reader will see Greene in Africa, Greene in South America, Greene in Vietnam. He will see Greene among friends and deep within enemy territory, caught as usual on the horns of an existential dilemma and looking coolly about for ways of escape.