The Last Word and Other Storiesby Published 01 Mar 1999
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These twelve stories, dating from 1923 to 1989, represent the quintessential Graham Greene. Rich in gallows humor, they have the power both to move and to entertain. Included here are such famous stories as "The Last Word", "The News in English", "The Lieutenant Died Last", and "The Lottery Ticket", as well as his masterly detective story "Murder for the Wrong Reason".
"The Last Word and Other Stories" Reviews
Graham Greene is a relatively new discovery for me and I have come to enjoy his writing very much.
This is a collection of short stories that range from a dystopian future to a psychological murder mystery. I will review just a few of the thirteen stories.
The Last Word is about a man who has lost his memory from an explosion due to some kind of war. He has been living the last twenty years alone and on bread. His neighbors are as suspicious of him as they are of each other. It is apparent that a totalitarian regime has been ruling the country.
One day, for some reason, he is escorted from his tiny apartment by a guard who takes him to the general. As the story progresses we find out who this lonely man is and why the dictator wants to see him.
This particular story shows the power of the Spiritual world and how no physical world can defeat it. There are many surprises and the ending brings a final surprise that enforces St. Paul's assertion, "Death, where is they sting? Grave where is they victory?"
The Lottery is about an Englishman who only visits out of the way places such as a tiny village in Mexico. While there he wins the state lottery which is quite a bit of money even by English standards. He doesn't want the money and is embarrassed that he should take money from such an impoverished province, so he donates it back to the state to use for good works. One can imagine the outcome or how the state defines, "good works".
Another story is about a murder narrated by the Chief of Police. His conclusions about the perpetrator brings an unexpected conclusion.
Finally, the last story is about an arrogant French journalist for a socialist magazine that goes to a Latin American country to interview the general who runs the country. She thinks she is going to intimidate the general by accusing him of not being "socialist enough". She finds the tables quickly turned on her.
All the stories are fascinating to read made all the more so by Graham's fluid writing. They are worth reading and I recommend them to all fans of Greene's writing or people who would like to become fans of one of the last centuries foremost authors.
This book brings together twelve of Greene's short -- some very short -- stories which had not been anthologized, for one reason or another, in his earlier volumes of stories. These tales span the range of his career, going all the way back into the 1920s, and up to the late 1980s. As a longtime fan, and very unsystematic reader, of Greene, I was elated to find this little book while digging through library stacks, and read it in the space of an evening. The stories are like a selection of little dishes, of greatly varying taste, texture, tone, so even a reader not particularly enamored of Greene's themes and style will likely find something to enjoy.
Greene has always been a master at revealing characters passage by passage, and setting them at cross-purposes, not artificially, but within the sorts of real contexts and conflicts into which life tragically places people. He also has an eye for the comic, but usually darkly so. Both of these aspects of his work come out in this selection of stories.
"The Man Who Stole the Eiffel Tower" is an almost Roald Dahl-esque sort of play of fancy, spurred by the narrator's desire and decision to give the long hard-working landmark a bit of a vacance a la campagne, a farce of taxi-drivers, drunk tourists blitzing the "sites," and tower staff, none of whom are "fool enough to admit that [their] place of employment has ceased to exist until the week has come around and the money has been earned."
"A Branch of the Service" combines the genre of the spy-story, at which Greene excels, with an excursion into gastronomy and epicurianism whose demands the narrator would so badly like to escape. I'll not give away the story; suffice it to say that the work this spy does must be conducted over dinners too rich for his taste and stomach.
"The Lieutenant Died Last" tells a tale of a heroic guerrilla battle carried out by a deadly but damaged soldier turned poacher. During WW II, Germans para-drop into an isolated but strategic English village, round up the inhabitants, and prepare to start carrying out operations. Purves, a Boer War veteran, drunk, living in a shanty, slips by the soldiers, loads his Mauser, and then begins to ambush the Germans, doing most of them in, including the wounded Lieutenant. There's no battlefield redemption for the former soldier, though -- he's good at killing, and the fight simply lets him get even with the Boers, relive the past ("It was like youth again; all sorts of sly memories came back"), make sport ("Old Purves at this point of the game could have retired safely, with all the honors, but he was enjoying himself").
The very first story "The Last Word" is essentially a parable, reminiscent both of Dostoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, and of another great Greene story, "The Hint of an Explanation." In it, the last pope, living in obscurity and forgetfulness after the abolition of Christianity decades earlier, the end of conflict, and the unification of the world under the General -- along with his old book, and a crucifix he manages to conceal -- is summoned before the world leader. A pivotal moment of triumph: "'You are the last living Christian,' the General said. 'You are a historical figure. For that reason I wanted to honor you at the end.'" The reader is left to puzzle over the meaning and implications of the last supper, the final moments, and "a strange and frightening doubt [that] crossed [the General's] mind."
Those are, of the twelve, my favorite four stories contained in this volume -- and perhaps the best recommendation I can give of the set is that, even if those four were torn out page by page, the book would still be worth the time of reading.
and one reason
being the r a n g e from 1923 through to 1989
Not often one gets THAT except in
"The Collected Short Stories Of...."
but here there are only...TWELVE.
Showing a definite 20th Century Tone.
Having just read some D.H.Lawrence short stories
the contrast in tone was sharp.
Well, I'm definitely NOT going to tell you the plots.
Either you like Graham Greene or you don't or you need to find out for yourselves
...which I envy you.
Until then I will continue to feel
Try the novels too.
AND the movies thereof.
WHAT A FEAST.
I got hold of this book because I wanted to read "The Lieutenant Died Last". It was used as the basis of a very fine English wartime film called "Went the Day Well?"
I like Graham Greene's writing very much and there is much to enjoy in this book. I particularly liked the title story "The Last Word", "The News in English" and "The Lieutenant Died Last". Some of the other stories didn't appeal to me so much.
Well worth reading if you are a Greene fan.
Some of the stories are easier to read than others, but nonetheless, his writing style is good.
The Last Word, The Lottery ticket, and Murder for the Wrong Reasons were my favorites.