Classic Thriller – “Ministry of Fear” by Graham Greene

213653I have, as my recent posts indicate, been reading far more than watching films. I find reading to be much more satisfying and edifying. Here then is one of the recent most excellent books I can heartily recommend.

Graham Greene does not disappoint. This was a fantastic tale, more akin to a psychological thriller blended excellently with a spy story, though the spy story is the background for the longest time. How deep the murky waters of memory and reality seem in this carefully crafted story of one Arthur Rowe, a curiously plain and inwardly-focused man who’s life was supposed to amount to something grand, yet he always feared he’d lost that. In fact, it confused him how he ever managed to murder his wife in past, normal people are not murderers. It was, he reasoned, a mercy killing, a little poison to end the suffering. The judge agreed, but the conscience did not. This makes for a man easily manipulated by doubt and by others. How wonderfully providential that a German bomb zapped 20 years of his memory, and he was able to live happily unaware of his own demons in a pastoral little asylum with friends and a good doctor. For a while, at least.

tumblr_mwq9rjvDKy1s9jvclo3_1280The whole story begins during the London Blitz of WWII. Pain, suffering, seemingly random death from the skies was all around. When Rowe discovers to his delight a charity fête, reminiscent of the good days of his childhood – day’s he’d often return to in his mind – he couldn’t resist. The fortune teller booth beckoned, and the fortune teller, quite curiously, gives him some information, a cake weight? Good Mr. Rowe finds himself quite glad to use the fortune teller’s fortune to guess the weight of a cake, and wins! He is now the recipient of a very good cake, with real eggs – a very desired treat in the lean years of the London Blitz, for sure. No one in their right mind would give up such a treat, but to his annoyance, strangers start asking. They adamantly pester to take the cake away.

These others are, apparently, normal people, but not so normal as to hide their darker side.When a grotesquely brutish thug arrives at his apartment, seeking to take the cake, threatening violence, Arthur knows something is up. Just then, life changes dramatically as a German bomb destroys the building. Rowe is now out cold, and awakes another man altogether.

Rowe ends up in a peaceful, pastoral nursing home, his memory of the last twenty years now cleared, he is free from demons and conscience. His caretaker is a benevolent saint, his fellow patients a curious but decent lot. But all is not as it seems.

The cake was just the first clue. Something is not right with the people around him. Would Arthur Rowe rise above his love for peaceful ignorance in a nursing home, or would truth dawn on him, and elevate him to the greatness he so dreamed of as a boy? It wasn’t in his hands until the end.

I really found a connection to Rowe, he seems introspective, personal, and a rather naive idealist – a state I tend to lapse into myself. I could completely relate to his thoughts, his wonderings, his moral challenges, his dilemmas, his fear. He feared the ugly truth, yet he had to embrace it. This is a brilliant tale, and one of the great books that testify to Greene’s honored position as a writer.

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