Tuesday, August 14, 2012


A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1960, 248 pp

Some people complain about Graham Greene always writing the same story: a combination of doubts about God and marital infidelity. He writes so well, it doesn't bother me in the least. Most great writers explore the same territory for their entire career, turning the subject like a precious stone, shedding light on every facet. 

Querry is a fugitive from his own life. He had been a successful architect, achieving fame for his cathedrals. His years of womanizing had led him to decide he was incapable of loving anyone.

Therefore he has taken himself to the back-end of nowhere deep in the heart of the Congo darkness. Of course, a newspaperman finds him, giving Greene a chance to riff on reporters, the press, and the gullibility of the public. More importantly, Querry does find a kindred spirit in Dr Colin, physician to a monastery devoted to serving God through lepers. Dr Colin is an atheist and a gifted healer of more than leprosy.

I have read every novel Greene wrote from 1940 to 1960 and can attest that he continues to confound me. I had some idea of where he was going in this novel, but he went somewhere else. The end took me by surprise.

A "burnt-out case" is a leper who can only be considered cured after the disease has eaten away all that can be eaten away. The victim lives but cannot usually re-enter society. Querry is a moral leper who calls himself "cured."

(A Burnt-Out Case is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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