Review: The Human Factor by Graham Greene

“He opened the book at random, or so he believed, but a book is like a sandy path which keeps the indent of footsteps.”
~Graham Greene, The Human Factor

Plot summary

“Maurice Castle is a high-level operative in the British secret service during the Cold War. He is deeply in love with his African wife, who escaped apartheid South Africa with the help of his communist friend. Despite his misgivings, Castle decides to act as a double agent, passing information to the Soviets to help his in-laws in South Africa.

In order to evade detection, he allows his assistant to be wrongly identified as the source of the leaks. But when suspicions remain, Castle is forced to make an even more excruciating sacrifice to save himself. Originally published in 1978, ‘The Human Factor’ is an exciting novel of espionage drawn from Greene’s own experiences in MI6 during World War II, and ultimately a deeply humanistic examination of the very nature of loyalty.” More on Goodreads

On Graham Greene

“Henry Graham Greene (1904-1991) was an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Sign at 14 Clapham Common North Side Clapham London SW4 0RF. Photo: Spudgun67 (CC BY 2.0)
Sign at 14 Clapham Common North Side Clapham London SW4 0RF. Photo: Spudgun67 (CC BY 2.0)

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a ‘Catholic novelist’ rather than as a ‘novelist who happened to be Catholic,’ Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and The Power and the Glory. Works such as The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Spying on love
  • Measures of loyalty
  • Espionage gone sidetracked

I believe Mr. Graham Greene is one fine example of British humor and wittiness of the English language. Who wouldn’t want to end up in one of his stories? I’d like to land in either Our Man in Havana or in Travels With My Aunt, both excellent journeys into an adventurous life of international politics and spy glamour. Most likely, however, one would end up A Burnt Out Case after all, that’s just the thing with gambling.

Meanwhile, On Muni. Photo: davitydave (CC BY 2.0)
Meanwhile, On Muni. Photo: davitydave (CC BY 2.0)

Greene’s characters are seldom actual heroes but rather relatable persons with human faults. He delves into the human motives and interests without prejudice. I think that’s the main charm in his novels that he leaves room for the characters to grow into flesh and blood and not just their choices and motivations.

At times the characters are viewed through humanistic lenses, they are portrayed but a lot is left for the interpretation of the reader to reach a conclusion. The characters might not be trustworthy but at least they seem real with their faults and errors.

Greene‘s novels are very much related to the realm of the Cold War. It’s like James Bond meeting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with adventurous twists and inventive characters. The plot twists can be rather quick, one never knows what happens to the main characters, although one is skeptical of their long-term well-being. What I really like about Greene‘s novels is that everything is grey or shades of grey: The boundary between good and bad is a thin one and the characters may shift between good and bad as they please.

Graham Greene is such a classic, one cannot make it through one’s life without having read at least one of his novels. So, without further ado, pick a Greene and start reading, before it’s too late my dears 🙂 Enjoy!

More information
– John Leonard: Books of The Times, published in The New York Times on 27 February 1978, link retrieved on 10 December 2016
– Peter Parker: The inhuman factor, published in the Guardian on 7 August 1994, link retrieved on 10 December 2016

Other novels, stories and reports by Greene
  • The Man Within (1929)

    Collection of Graham Greene. Photo: Anthony Easton (CC BY 2.0)
    Collection of Graham Greene’s books. Photo: Anthony Easton (CC BY 2.0)
  • A Gun for Sale (1936)
  • Journey Without Maps (1936)
  • Brighton Rock (1938)
  • The Confidential Agent (1939)
  • The Power and the Glory (1940)
  • The Ministry of Fear (1943)
  • The Heart of the Matter (1948)
  • The Third Man (1950)
  • The End of the Affair (1951)
  • The Quiet American (1955)
  • Our Man in Havana (1958)
  • A Burnt Out Case (1960)
  • The Comedians (1966)
  • May We Borrow Your Husband & Other Comedies of the Sexual Life (1967)
  • Travels With My Aunt (1969)
  • A Sort Of Life (1971)
  • The Honorary Consul (1973)
  • The Tenth Man (1985)
  • The Captain and the Enemy (1988)

“One can’t reason away regret-it’s a bit like falling in love, falling into regret.”
~Graham Greene, The Human Factor


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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