Thursday, January 29, 2015

Escape routes

During a 60-year writing career, Graham Greene wrote a series of novels that mulled over how to live a moral life while surrounded by crime and intrigue. Novels like BRIGHTON ROCK, THE THIRD MAN, THE QUIET AMERICAN, THE HONORARY CONSUL, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, A BURNT-OUT CASE, etc.
I haven't read any of them. But I may HAVE to now, after reading Greene's partial autobiography, WAYS OF ESCAPE (1980). I read Greene's previous partial-autobiography, A SORT OF LIFE, about 20 years ago and thought it was BORING AS SHIT. Greene just didn't REVEAL much. Yeah, his childhood wasn't easy, and he struggled for a few years as a newspaper sub-editor while writing his first few books. He suffered throughout his life with manic depression. But he just didn't REVEAL much. He seemed so DISTANT.
WAYS OF ESCAPE reveals more -- that writing those many novels was a way of dealing with that manic depression. Greene wonders a couple of times in the book about how people who can't write or paint or make music deal with the craziness and stress that goes with everyday life.
Greene brought some of the stress on himself. When he wasn't writing, he was serving in Britain's Secret Service during World War II -- he insists it was No Big Deal. ... And didn't I read somewhere awhile back that he was a spy for years after that? That would explain his attraction to visiting various hot spots around the world -- Russia, Poland, Vietnam, Israel, Cuba, Spain, west Africa, Kenya, Malaysia, Paraguay, Argentina, Panama, Ecuador, etc.
Greene describes all these travels in the book ... and discusses the real-life models that some of the seedy characters in his novels were based on -- characters that critics said for years came totally from Greene's imagination, from a place they started calling "Greeneland."
Along the way, Greene also discusses smoking pot and opium and taking cocaine while in some of these foreign locales -- rather nonchalantly, as if it was all just part of the job.
He also mentions (but does not name) a series of mistresses, and admits to spending lots of time in brothels. All of this is related in a reserved, gentlemanly manner. As if it wasn't shocking -- as if it was just the thing an English gentleman should do.
Of course there's nothing romantic about writing -- you sit in front of a computer or a piece of paper and just do it -- try to make what you see in your head come out on the page. Greene doesn't describe the actual writing of his novels much, but he does talk about some of the situations surrounding them, his financial condition, the failure of his marriage, his travels for research.
He still doesn't reveal much, and he says up front that he won't. But it's an easy book to read -- one of the easiest things I've read in months. I was done with it in a couple of days.

I'm interested in the actual process of writing for other writers, how they do it, what effect it has on them, when they know they're doing it right. First it was Joyce Carol Oates' JOURNAL and now Greene, and I've got more piled up. I'm trying to figure out if I'm a writer or just a middle-aged guy with ego problems. Maybe I'm just self-obsessed and I love the sound of my own voice in my head. I could be the world's worst writer. I just don't know.

Reading William Gibson's IDORU, enjoying it much more this time. Got bogged down after 100 pages last time -- now I'm two-thirds of the way through, and I'm enjoying the slick, slippery, shiny surface of the thing. Plus, some of the characters are musicians, which means the book actually fits into this blog. Even if one of the characters is a computer-generated illusion....

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