Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graham Greene Was a Difficult Man


I love memoirs about writers by other writers.  They can be catty, gossipy, filled with spite and jealousy, or (not as much fun) they can be reverential.  Not often are they all that balanced. But I just read one that does have that balance - GREENE ON CAPRI, by Shirley Hazzard.  Hazzard's had a long acclaimed career, and she writes about her friendship with Greene from the years she and her husband, the critic Francis Steegmuller, like Greene, stayed for long periods on the Mediterranean island of Capri.  Greene owned a house there, as did Hazzard and her husband, and over the course of their time on the island, she got to know Greene well. He was, to put it bluntly, a thorny type of person, which I guess comes as no surprise if you've read his books.  A contrarian to the bone, impatient, restless, blunt sometimes to the point of rudeness.  Not exactly someone who generally held women in high regard.  But to his friends (and women he respected, like Hazzard) he could be warm and generous, a good listener.  Hazzard captures the various sides of this complicated person, and she weaves her Greene remembrances into a look at the very rich literary history of the island. It's had quite a history, Capri, dating back to the 11 years Roman emperor Tiberius spent there by his own desire, ruling the entire empire from this rocky place. It's the place, later, where Jean-Luc Godard shot his great film adaptation of Alberto Morovia's novel CONTEMPT. A lush Mediterranean place with a fascinating history, and this book is a knowing idiosyncratic look at a fascinating man, Mr. Graham Greene.