We read it in the Catholic Book Club, if you can imagine what a fiasco that was.
A sad sad novel. I liked it even though I'm not a catholic. A lot of the catholic guilt stuff went straight over my head. I am a philistine guy who has not read the bible and knows next to nothing about Christianity. But even then, there was a lot to appreciate in the novel.
It is set in a multicultural African colony, controlled and policed by the British. Scobie is an extremely moral but broke policeman with a demanding wife Louise. He is getting old and it looks like he will not be made commissioner. It is wartime and Scobie is out to catch diamond smugglers. Temptations abound. A Syrian Muslim businessman who might be involved with diamond smuggling tries to befriend Scobie. When his wife, who is sick of living in the African colony asks for money to move to South Africa, Scobie bends over for the Syrian. But before that he tries to push his wife into the hands of an impotent and self-repressed accountant named Wilson. It only creates a deep hatred in Wilson for Scobie after Louise rejects him. Louise leaves for South Africa. Scobie has an affair with a woman who is shipwrecked and orphaned. But then Louise informs him that she is coming back. Scobie struggles with multiple moral dilemmas. And Wilson is spying on him. The only respite in this mosquito and rat infested land is the copious amounts of pink gins and whiskeys that everyone's drinking down.
The novel is divided into into three books. I found the first book (which ends with Louise leaving for South Africa) to be very sad and compelling. Scobie's feelings of inadequacy and gradual decline and the exotic rainy landscapes are vividly evoked with intensely emotional prose filled with quotable lines and almost perfect pacing. Greene knows how to tear into the hearts of his characters and reveal their deepest fears and emotions. The two other books failed to move me as much as the first book. This is almost entirely due to those two parts being awash with catholic guilt and filled with long dreary conversations between these conflicted characters.
Like in The End of the Affair and The Comedians, there is a complicated and emotionally charged love quadrangle. But unlike those books, the main character in Heart of the Matter is the cuckold. Greene was obviouslly interested in matters of fidelity and betrayal from a religious point of view. And maybe he was a bit of a perv. Or why would he have these entangled and overlapping love triangles and quadrangles in every single book?
As someone who is not very devout, I could not really identify with Scobie's spiritual torment. But I could identify with his real life problems and uncertainties. And the novel also worked as a bit of a thriller. But those are the superficial things. And those are the only things that I could really appreciate. Maybe I should stick to crime fiction and horror.