‘Brighton Rock,’ by Graham Greene

Brighton RockBrighton Rock by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Found my copy on a stoop. Was totally worth picking up.

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At the end of this comes, for me, a startling — and strangely calming — quote from a priest. To avoid a spoiler, I won’t provide much context; it is enough to say that the priest tries to comfort someone by saying that

You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the … appalling … strangeness of the mercy of God.

Graham Greene wrote this novel in 1938, and that line — ellipses included — has had a long, rich life. Longer and richer, I might say, than the book itself, two film adaptations notwithstanding.

It is appalling.

via The Appalling Strangeness | Segullah.

It comes up quite often in essays that traffic in contemporary views on theology. And in books about religion in literature, (e.g. “To Promote, Defend and Redeem,” “Redeeming Modernity,” etc.

“Indeed, if Greene really had instilled a doubt of hell in the reader’s mind, then the spiritual thriller which is “Bright Rock” would cease to thrill.” (p. 124, “The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961” by Ian Turnbull Ker)

Even now, it resonates with bloggers and tweeters. There apparently is a lot of depth to plumb in those few words, if we can believe what we read. Given Mr. Greene’s own, shall we say, interest in writing about Catholicism, there are probably some psychologies between the lines as well.

But the Catholic novelist is more than unhappy

via Faith Noir: On Graham Greene and the Catholic Novel | The Harvard Advocate.

Reading Greene is not a theologically comfortable experience.

via Graham Greene and the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God | BMS World Mission.

I read the words and was struck with a kind of knowing. It was jarring because I was so focused on the book and so near the end. I was racing to the finish with not a little enthusiasm, and hoping to get there before the end of a Very Important Nap. I was sure I had heard that sentence before, and my first thought was the Pauline epistles. It seemed natural, and it was certainly a natural thing for a priest to quote from.

But of course, that is not where I first remembered it from.

“You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” says Graham Greene. I don’t know who’s ass he was kissing there ’cause I think you’re just vindictive.

via The West Wing Transcripts.

That is from “Two Cathedrals,” Season 2 Episode 22. And it leans a little toward the melodramatic. President Barlett’s grieving for the death of his secretary manifests itself in an angry, one-sided conversation into the echoing stillness of the National Cathedral, complete with an overliterary matzah ball delivered, I imagine, with a knowing smirk from Aaron Sorkin.

If you ask me, and I know you didn’t, I would say about half the power of that scene (see below) comes from the fact that about half the lines are spoken in Latin. It’s a little like how Americans think British people sound smart, whether they actually are or not. Mr. Greene’s main character from “Brighton Rock” tosses out Latin phrases from time to time, too, and these take on a menacing tone a little ways out of proportion with his real-world potential.

So does this quotation, if you ask me. What does it mean — the appalling strangeness —  if not, Stop thinking so much?

‘A Time to Keep Silence’

A Time to Keep SilenceA Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shh-h-h-h.

[Pause.]

Recommended, to his fans. Again.

“Silence” is a pleasing, and brief, dissertation on meditative meaning and monastic history, with all the usual Fermor qualities.

Try not to be distracted by the incredibly, and unnecessarily, distracting introduction in which Fermor tries to skirt his own personal disbelief in elegant and opaque fashion. “I was hindered by several disabilities,” he begins, tantalizingly, “from sharing to the utmost all the advantages a stranger may gain from monastic sojourns.”

I confess that, had I had a medical textbook handy, I might have consulted it for some hint of what Fermor was on about. But as he writes in the very next sentence, “Hints they must remain as they touch on perplexities that have little bearing on the main drift of this book…” (’Nuff said, Paddy.)

Little hint of these perplexities are discernible in the words that follow. Fermor’s agile mind is ideally suited for contemplative settings.

My own, however, tends to wander. As when Fermor described a ghastly piece of art at the Grande Trappe depicting a skeleton, with an hour-glass, scythe and the legend, “Tonight, perhaps?” Thankfully, Fermor steadied my nerves immediately: “It is scarcely marvelous that the most liberal-minded laymen have detected in such disturbing symbolism, in the perpetual silence, the ghostly costume and the pervading melancholy of a Trappist abbey, no message but one of despair and a morose delectation of Death.”

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