The Confidential Agent, by Graham Greene

"D" is an agent from an unnamed country in the throes of a civil war, sent to England to try and negotiate a deal to buy coal which is needed to help his side keep fighting. Before he arrives at Dover though, he sees "L", an enemy agent, and this is the first intimation that his task is going to be difficult, and dangerous.

This story felt a bit unlike other Greene books I've read - maybe it's because the "story" felt more prominent compared to the characters. Or at least, it wasn't driven by the characters. Or perhaps not predictable given the characters. One recurring theme was that "D" would suffer a setback which seemed on the face of it serious enough to mean that his whole project was ruined, only to wriggle his way out of it and provide you with the brief hope that perhaps he might be able to carry it off after all.

For example, he misses the train to London, but then is offered a lift by Rose, a woman he's encountered on the boat. But then the car gets a puncture and Rose and he end up in an hotel. While there, he is attacked in the gents lavatories, but just in time saved by the hotel manager. He then takes the car (puncture now mended) but is pursued and caught by the hotel manager and bouncers who beat him up for having "stolen" Rose's car. And so on... this goes on through the whole book and there never seems a time when you can relax (it's a bit like John Cleese in Clockwise, and some of the things that happen are pretty farcical).

The writing was pretty good though, and a couple of things I especially noted: first the way he describes scenes where there are a lot of people (e.g. in the bar on the boat) and you just hear snatches of conversation as "D" moves through the room. Second was a description of dawn breaking over a railway line, while "D" is waiting on a station platform for the early train to come.

This was another that was read by Tim Piggot-Smith and while he did a good job, having the book read aloud spoiled it in one respect: in the book, Greene deliberately doesn't name the country which is experiencing the civil war, and he deliberately doesn't name the characters who are from that country. So we get "D", "L" and "K" for example. But the country is (as I think Greene admitted) based on Spain, and TPS reads "D" with a Spanish accent.

So at first, I assumed that "Dee" was a Spanish name, and that it was just a coincidence that "El" had a name that sounded like a letter as well. This did make a difference to how the book felt.

So a little strange, but a good read.

Completed : 10-Aug-2011 (audiobook)

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