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Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory (US: The Labyrinthine Ways)

Many people consider this to be Greene’s finest work, not least because it may be his most serious. However, novels that set out to justify religion, that, as Greene himself admitted, are written to a thesis, rarely work. The thesis gets in the way of the story and the characters, as it does here. The story is simple. An unnamed state in Mexico has outlawed religion as it is considered decadent. Priests have either fled or been persecuted and shot, except for one”whiskey priest”, who remains one jump ahead of the lieutenant on his trail. The priest is weak – he is an alcoholic – but he is determined to do, as far as he can, his duty to the people who need a priest. His problem is that, though he is asked to perform secret masses and confessions, he himself feels that he is spiritually not up to the task (meeting a woman he impregnated a few years earlier does not help.) Yet, the priest persists in his task and the tension produced by the lieutenant on his tail makes for a quite an enjoyable novel but it is not great literature.

Publishing history

First published 1940 by Heinemann