The Comedians, Graham Greene

‘Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is the imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism.’

When Chico Chica did our recent UK tour I became aware of how important PR and marketing is. But doing it throws up a big dilemma. I have to boast how good we are so there’s a danger I will be like one of those boring show-offs you try to avoid at parties. People are attracted to ordinariness but expect the extraordinary in art. If I’m trying to sell tickets and CDs, is it better to be admired or liked?

Most musicians (including me) have at least at one time, tended to make the work they do sound a little bit more glamorous than it actually is and are prone to name-dropping. But affecting modesty while paying a publicist to boast on one’s behalf, or writing about oneself in the third person, looks like cheating. Now if I were a paper clip manufacturer I could extol the virtues of my paper clips and then go on to continue my anonymous life. But I’m a performer. I’m selling the product of my imagination. It’s personal.

In Graham Greene’s The Comedians, there are three main characters one of whom is Jones, a likeable boaster. The story is set in the early ‘60s so they are part of the post World War II generation. In those days many men must have been tempted to big up their contribution to the war effort, and without Google, they could easily get away with it. The idea of being found out for telling a lie would, for most people, be too much to bear so it takes courage to boast. Some people starting off in business talk of the ‘future truth’: telling a lie which isn’t really a lie because it will be true in the future. The trouble is, the future may take its time to catch up and verify the story. In The Comedians, Jones’s stories are believed by rebel soldiers, fighting to overthrow the regime of Papa Doc Chevalier and his sunglass-wearing henchmen, the Tontons Macoutes.

I hate preachiness in a story –  when it becomes so obvious the reader is supposed to feel a certain way on an issue. But I do like a story to convey ideas. It’s a hard trick for a writer to pull off. Graham Green does so by putting ideas on the lips of flawed characters.

The book has lit an interest in me for Haiti and I’ve been looking up background information including on the Chevaliers and Aristide and how it came to be the nightmare republic. That’s the great thing about good fiction, it doesn’t make you intelligent, it does something better, it makes you curious.

My previous book was set in the neighbouring island of Cuba but that’s a coincidence. I wasn’t  trying to make this a Caribbean-themed reading thread but now I feel tempted. I may well push Greene’s The Honoury Consul and Our Man Havana  up my list as well as Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.

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