I’m joining in Simon Savidge’s tribute to his late gran – Greene for Gran, reading one (or more) books by her favourite author during August. The first novel I’ve read is…
I thought I’d read all of Greene’s novels, but I found one on my shelf that I hadn’t read before. It was amongst the books I inherited from my late mum, so was particularly appropriate. I had to make sure I had the right reading glasses on though, this traditional small format 1970 Penguin edition has tiny text. England Made Me is one of his early novels, the sixth, and was published in 1935 when he was 31. It was republished with the title Shipwrecked in 1953.
A pre-war morality tale, it concerns twins, Anthony and Kate Farrant. Brother and sister are at first glance like chalk and cheese which makes for a good set-up. Here’s the beginning …
She might have been waiting for her lover. For three quarters of an hour she had sat on the same high stool, half turned from the counter, watching the swing door. Behind her the ham sandwiches were piled under a glass dome, the urns gently steamed. As the door swung open, the smoke of engines silted in, grit on the skin and like copper on the tongue.
But it’s Anthony she’s waiting for. He eventually turns up, apologetic but unrepentant, and telling her the same old story:
But she had heard that tale too often; it had been the yearly fatal drumming in their father’s ears which helped to kill him. He had not been able to answer a telephone without anxiety – ‘I have resigned’, ‘I have resigned’, proudly as if it had been matter for congratulation – and afterwards the cables from the East tremblingly opened. ‘I have resigned’ from Shanghai, ‘I have resigned’ from Bangkok, ‘I have resigned’ from Aden, creeping remorselessly nearer. Their father had believed to the end the literal truth of those cables, signed even to relatives with faint grandiloquence in full, ‘Anthony Farrant’, But Kate had always known too much; to her these messages conveyed – ‘Sacked. I am sacked. Sacked.’
So we have the measure of Anthony, a waster and sponger, reliant on false brotherhood conferred by an old school tie which he is not entitled to wear; fired each time he is found out.
But what of Kate? She may despair of Anthony, but as his twin there is a very strong bond between them. She’s an ex-pat too, however, she has a steady job as secretary – and lover, to Krogh, a Swedish financier and industrialist living and working in Stockholm.
Krogh is the epitome of the fat cat who has got rich by shady dealings – exploiting monopolies and insider trading, price fixing; all common practice to him. Greene apparently based him on a real Swedish magnate – Ivar Kreuger, whose empire was founded on matches.
Kate takes Anthony back to Stockholm with her, and gets him a job as Krogh’s bodyguard. Krogh’s life is ruled by the attentions of the newspapers and paparazzi. His every move is chronicled, he can’t go anywhere without it being reported and commented upon, especially by Minty, a down-at-heel journalist and perennial victim.
Farrant plays the middle game – sort of befriending Minty and Krogh. He persuades Krogh, who habitually goes to the opera most nights, to come out of his shell a little, to escape the paparazzi and go to a club; he tells Minty he’ll get the exclusive when there’s a story. Underneath it all, Farrant is a decent chap. Then one day Krogh asks him to do something which is against Anthony’s internal moral code – which way will he go?
A complication is added in the form of a girl for Anthony, Lucia, on holiday with her parents. Anthony falls for her and for perhaps the first time, Kate is worried about the possibility of her not being the number one female in his life. Being a twin, their bond has been so strong, she likens excision of it to be akin to an abortion!
This novel is truly murky on all fronts, including the autumnal mists of Stockholm as it prepares for the end of the season. This is not one of Greene’s ‘entertainments’, it’s dark and serious and full of moral dilemmas. None of the characters are likeable, although Anthony has puppyish moments about him. Kate is too brittle and too involved, and Krogh is a tyrant. The seedy Minty has public interest at heart though, and helps Farrant with his decision.
Given that it was published in 1935, I wondered why it had been set in famously neutral Sweden, it gave the whole rather an air of blandness, and the northern European setting is unusual for Greene.
The novel was filmed in the 1970s with Peter Finch as Krogh and Michael York as Farrant, but they relocated it to Nazi Germany, which I’m sure added a frisson of excitement – but maybe fewer shades of grey?
So, not my favourite Greene, but still a fascinating read with complex characters and some great descriptive moments. (7/10)
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Source: Inherited copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
England Made Me : by Graham Greene, Vintage paperback.