Haven't read it but the movie was a cracker.
It is amazing how much Greene packs into a 200 page novel. Every time I finish reading a Graham Greene novel, I feel like I have read a really large book, even though most of his books are only 150-300 pages long.
The Ministry of Fear begins at a fete. A nostalgic man, Arthur Rowe aimlessly roams around the fete enjoying the sights and the sounds and then he wins a cake, after a fortune teller tells him its exact weight. But soon, Rowe begins to feel that people are out to steal the cake from him. After he hires a detective, things really begin to unravel. The plot is outlandish and unpredictable but Greene never goes into completely indecipherable Anthony Burgess territory (Tremor of Intent, M/F).
Like in The Third Man (which was set in Vienna), the book has a comical and absurdist evocation of bombarded wartime England. The elaborate hiring of a detective like in The End of the Affair. Both these novels came after The Ministry of Fear though. Discussions over glasses of whiskey. A hint of Christianity and constant admonishing of pity which according to Greene is worse than lust ("sense of pity which is more promiscuous than lust"). The book is filled with some amazing similes and metaphors which help create mood and strengthens the visual impact of the scenes . The Ministry of Fear is vintage Graham Greene. Yet, it is unlike any of his other novels that I have read. Maybe a bit similar to The Third Man. Unfortunately, the alcohol and fortunately the Catholic guilt are administered only in mild doses.
And nobody can write erotic scenes like Greene. Rowe and Anna hustling around the hotel room suddenly realizing that they are holding hands. The seance where Rowe hold's Miss Pantil's "hot and dry" hands. In Heart of the Matter, when Wilson and Louise kiss each other, Greene describes their lips as being stuck together like bivalves and offers no further description.
Rowe's characterization deserves special mention. He is someone who has let himself go, a dreamer shut away from the rest of the world, living with his landlady. There are achingly beautiful passages which describes Rowe's feelings when he realizes that he has no friends left and hence nobody to ask for help. The only people that know him are the friends of his long dead wife. Maybe Greene was suggesting that certain aspects of our personality and memories cease to exist when we lose friends who the only keepers of those memories. Even though the book is a thrilling adventure, it is awash with yearning and melancholy.
The book is divided into four sections - The Unhappy Man, The Happy Man, Bits and Pieces and The Whole Man. I thought it was mostly about about a lonely and guilt-ridden man achieving masculinity by getting involved in an adventure. It is also about the power of memories - how they can both make and break us. The different aspects of patriotism. The bitter-sweet ending (He was pledging both of them to a life time of lies ..... It seemed to him that after all once could exaggerate the value of happiness) underscores the novel's capriciousness with the protagonist falling for the girl not only out of love but also a sense of pity.