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The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

05 Oct

TMoFFor Arthur Rowe the charity fête was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.

For those of you who like a bit of paranoia and deception in your literature, you can’t go far wrong with this novel.  This short and pacy read is partly reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps but goes much deeper into the human aspect such events evoke..

Arthur, our accidental protagonist is a mind estranged from the world, struggling to comprehend the seismic changes around him as well as his past actions.

His turmoil of an ordinary individual tortured by his inner demons, coupled with the usual struggles of a lonely man. One just trying to get along, reveals a vulnerable side which has you rooting for the type of chap he is.

This layered character is the everyman, a real human with which each reader can see themselves in his place and empathise with.  His struggles living through the Blitz, at the heart of wartime England just trying to survive and keep same…yet at the same time way out of his depth is a familiar feeling to all of us at some point.

What starts off as a gentle read quickly becomes an intricate tale with lots of questions and loose ends that beg to be tied up.  Starting at a fete, it all feels very nostalgic and British, guessing the weight of the cake is practically a national pastime over here.  Things quickly become serious and mysterious though, giving us a classic innocent man hunted scenario albeit one that also focuses more on themes such as identity and guilt in the past.

There is a mixture of ingredients here combining to make for a wonderful adventure,there is the chicanery of the plotting, the thrill of the chase as well as the psychology of a human mind still dealing with a terrible action of the past.  Along with such books as Ninety Eighty Four, the presence of certain shadowy forces are an eerie nod to such agencies that are in operation around the world today.  It makes the claustrophobia both realistic and palpable throughout.

It’s all here: surveillance, secret forces at work, the murky underworld of espionage, conspiracies and one innocent man powerless against the faceless might of the unknown but undoubtedly powerful hidden machine. Betrayal, lies, sinister folk aplenty hidden in the shadows and often behind a veneer of respectability.  This is definitely a book for the dark Autumn nights.

Being my first Graham Greene book, I am mightily impressed and feel the book deserves to be more well-known than it is, the strength of the writing and strong characters make this a dark but satisfying read.  Set to the backdrop of World War II, this is classic writing combining the right amount of action with introspective examination of character and of life.

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40 Comments

Posted by on 05/10/2014 in Classics, Fiction

 

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40 responses to “The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

  1. renxkyoko

    05/10/2014 at 19:12

    That’s my kind of story, actually. I think I have some books of his. I tend to buy so many books from the local library, but have never gotten around to reading any of them. But once I do start reading, I turn into a wild reader, not even stopping for meals. The last book I read was written by a fellow blogger, Nicholas Conley. I also have SeyiSaradavid’s book that I need to read soon. She’s a fellow blogger… and I promised her I’d write a review. Aaaak. I don’t make reviews. lol And wow, her book is thick ! ! * facepalm*

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    • Ste J

      05/10/2014 at 19:25

      I am familiar with both books, in fact I to have had the pleasure of reviewing both. Reviews for fellow bloggers are always tougher than a book off of the bookshelf but I do thrive on a challenge.

      Book hoarding is great and the beauty of buying many is that you forget the gems that you have in your collection after a while. Meals really can’t get in the way of a good book.

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  2. Jeff

    05/10/2014 at 19:13

    Thanks for the recommendation. Considering reading some Greene after re-re-watching Tinker Taylor. Just borrowed The Spy Who Came in from the Cold though. Does Greene have that Le Carre gritty realism?

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    • Ste J

      05/10/2014 at 19:21

      I haven’t read any Le Carre and this is my first Greene so I can’t give you too much of an accurate overview…this book does feel more sentimental than gritty however, yet is not overly romanticised. I can see I have plenty more reading to do!

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      • Jeff

        05/10/2014 at 20:18

        >this book does feel more sentimental than gritty

        That’s what I suspected. Greene does get mentioned as such a strong influence on the spy thriller though, so I still might have a look sometime. Thanks again.

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  3. shadowoperator

    05/10/2014 at 20:16

    Am I wrong, or did the illustrious and complicated Graham Greene also write a light book about travelling with his dog, called “Travels With Charley”? Or am I daring to confuse him with someone else? Never mind. I think the book you reviewed is enough to keep all of us busy guessing for some time to come.

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    • Ste J

      06/10/2014 at 19:25

      I am not to up on my G. G. but I think I will have to dabble some more, in fact I have Brighton Rock on my bookshelf which people rave on about so perhaps I will get to that before Christmas.

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      • shadowoperator

        06/10/2014 at 19:33

        Yes, I too have a(n unread so far) copy of “Brighton Rock.” I believe it’s one of his most acclaimed. We’ll have to confer on it after we read it.

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        • Ste J

          06/10/2014 at 19:41

          Ah I like that idea, we could always synchronise our reviews as that would make for an interesting experiment.

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          • shadowoperator

            06/10/2014 at 20:09

            I don’t know if I feel competent to deal with G. Greene. He’s from the fifties and sixties, isn’t he? And something of a satirist? Me fear him. Texts from that time of that ilk seem very challenging to me, so while I won’t say “no,” I think I’ll let you do the first post, and then I’ll refer to your site and be a coward and hide behind you to do mine. Do you mind?

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            • Ste J

              06/10/2014 at 20:45

              Competent, you are very analytical and incisive and I know you would do a great job, I will go first, if you don’t mind a bit of a wait as I have a back log as big as both my arms put end to end, which is very painful…I tried it.

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              • shadowoperator

                06/10/2014 at 21:14

                Of course I’ll wait. What bothers me about writers from that time period is the bitterness of the satire, something like that show “Mad Men” which has been on American tv in the last few years (I don’t know if you’ve gotten it there or not). It’s sometimes hard to tell whether they are satirists who have a positive set of values they are pulling for and are satirizing what they don’t find positive, or whether they are just nihilistic satirists, who are going in all directions at once, without having a positive standard to refer to. But we’ll find out about Graham Greene in our own good time, I guess.

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                • Ste J

                  08/10/2014 at 20:32

                  I found Jonathan Swift to be one of those people you describe, Gulliver’s travels was so much more than the children’s versions that seem so prevalent. I do enjoy the journey we shall undertake though, it is good to have a challenge.

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                  • shadowoperator

                    08/10/2014 at 20:59

                    Have you ever read the famous Professor Wayne Booth, who wrote a book called “The Rhetoric of Fiction”? Really a great read. But here I think another book of his would be applicable–it’s called “A Rhetoric of Irony.” In it, he discusses just this type of satirical irony we’re talking about, which seems to be merely destructive (as well as the more standard sorts, which have positive values in mind). I think it’s interesting in terms of his titles, too, that it’s “‘The’ Rhetoric of Fiction,” but “‘A’ Rhetoric of Irony,” as if someone else might have a different rhetoric of irony if they tried to think of one!

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                    • Ste J

                      09/10/2014 at 20:31

                      I shall keep an eye out for those books, I really have to make more time for reading, of late I have been wasting time and I need to keep up with yourself and everybody else with the most fascinating books!

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  4. Alastair Savage

    05/10/2014 at 21:06

    Funnily enough, this book has slipped under my radar but I am a fan of Graham Greene. During his lifetime, many people in the UK believed he deserved the Nobel prize but I never believed he was quite that good. Nevertheless he is a wonderful prose stylist. My favourites of his are The Heart of the Matter (although the hero’s existential angst is a little unbelievable), Our Man in Havana and The Comedians. All of them are worthy of examination by your critical eye!

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    • Ste J

      06/10/2014 at 19:32

      Excellent, I will keep an eye out for those, I had heard of Our Man in Havana but have successfully avoided any films and multi-part TV shows about it as I am snobby like that with things. From this book alone, I would not say Nobel Prize material but I really am uneducated in this author, for the moment.

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  5. writersideup

    05/10/2014 at 21:20

    You totally intrigued me with this: What starts off as a gentle read quickly becomes an intricate tale with lots of questions and loose ends that beg to be tied up.

    Though I’m highly doubting I’ll get to read it, I’m putting it on my TBR list, Ste J. And, you know, every time I hear this author’s name I keep thinking of the actor, but I can’t imagine they are the same person!

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    • Ste J

      06/10/2014 at 19:28

      I had no idea there was an actor with the same name but checking out his career, I should have spotted his name when reading the credits because lets face it we all like to see who the Key Grip is…

      Keep adding to that TBR list, you never know what life will deal out and you could find yourself on a desert island surrounded by books…bliss.

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      • writersideup

        07/10/2014 at 06:02

        Yeah, I just wish I had more money and definitely more room! lol And the closest I’ve ever been to islands are Manhattan and Long 😉

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        • Ste J

          08/10/2014 at 20:23

          Two good islands, I went to New York airport once…it was big. Other than that…well I live on one, lol!

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  6. Letizia

    05/10/2014 at 22:56

    Great cover- seems to go well with the story. I like when that happens (did I just admit to judging a book by its cover?).

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    • Ste J

      06/10/2014 at 19:20

      I do the same thing, I will not touch it if there are stickers on saying some TV personality recommends it, or if it is a movie cover…awful. I do like a cove where they have made an effort and it isn’t a rip-off of some best selling book cover. Cover snobbery is acceptable I have just decided.

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      • Letizia

        06/10/2014 at 20:02

        I hate those movie covers too!

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        • Ste J

          06/10/2014 at 20:05

          They never induce me to buy a book, it has been remarked upon that I once picked one up, put it down and wiped my hands on my top like the cover had leprosy or something of that nature…which for us avid book fans it pretty much does.

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          • Letizia

            06/10/2014 at 20:08

            Haha, I can just imagine the scene!

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  7. Lyn

    05/10/2014 at 23:19

    You’ve hooked me Ste; I love The Thirty-Nine Steps Thanks, just what I needed…another book that needs to be read right now LOL.

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    • Ste J

      06/10/2014 at 19:22

      Sorry but if you pop around here you will get an eclectic bunch of books for your enjoyment whether you want them or not. I was surprised how thin The Thirty-Nine Steps was, although it had me hooked straight away as well.

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  8. Sherri

    08/10/2014 at 11:26

    This is my kind of book, definitely. I have heard of it but now I’ve read your wonderful review I really want to read it. I love these kind of stories…and I love your use of the word ‘chicanery’..what a great word that is. My list is growing endlessly. Good job I’ve got a Kindle at last…have you forgiven me yet Ste? 😉

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    • Ste J

      08/10/2014 at 20:27

      Now that I have had to download a Kindle app on my laptop for books, well I would be a hypocrite to not forgive you…it’s good to have a long list of books to choose from, I think I need to get back to reading more…it’s typical though, I spent ages with no job wanting one and now I have a job, I bemoan my lack of reading time.

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      • Sherri

        09/10/2014 at 10:09

        So you simply must forgive me then 🙂 And yes, that is so true in life…be careful what you wish for and all that…but it’s good you have a job and thank goodness for the canteen, right? 😉

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        • Ste J

          09/10/2014 at 20:34

          I just can’t be pleased whatever I do, until I win the lottery of course and then I will be happy as a chap called Larry. It’s either the canteen or going next door to Tesco to leaf through the magazines. I prefer a seat though.

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          • Sherri

            10/10/2014 at 10:52

            I know a chap called Larry and he is actually pretty happy, lol. But I know a guy called Ste too…and that day will come my friend, lottery or not…but if you do happen to win make sure to send over a bottle of champers so that I can make a toast to you … 🙂

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            • Ste J

              10/10/2014 at 19:13

              Champers and some books as well. You will be invited to my mansion of books when I do win.

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              • Sherri

                10/10/2014 at 20:58

                Woo Hoo…I await your engraved invitation and I RSVP ahead of time 😀

                Liked by 1 person

                 
              • writersideup

                10/10/2014 at 21:06

                Oooooh, the sweet sound of a “mansion of books” *sigh*

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  9. N@ncy

    09/10/2014 at 08:32

    Strong writing: Can you give me some examples of his talents?

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    • Ste J

      10/10/2014 at 19:09

      I lent the book out already so I will get back to you on that once it is safely back in my possession.

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  10. anna amundsen

    22/10/2014 at 19:00

    I have been considering reading Greene for more than a year now. Somehow he never managed to emerge on top of the ever-changing reading list.. I noted The Heart of the Matter and The Power and Glory, and now I will happily add this one, too. Sounds very good.

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    • Ste J

      23/10/2014 at 19:37

      I am not familiar with many of Greene’s books although I have Brighton Rock somewhere. He is a good writer and although it has a lot of layers, seems to feel light for its content as well.

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