Tuesday, 15 May 2001

The confidential agent and Tübingen

Listening to:

Shostakovich, string quartet #4 in D major, op. 83.

Just read:

Graham Greene, The confidential agent.

This novel tells the story of a man only ever named as D. He journeys to Britain in order to negotiate a secret agreement with a coal company to have the company supply his government with desperately needed coal. D’s country is undergoing a civil war, and the coal is necessary for the war effort. It’s not clear who will win the war, nor if anyone is really who they claim to be.

This novel differs from the two previous Greene novels I read because it is entirely told from just one perspective. The other novels use multiple characters to allow for scene-shifting and different views of the same situation. Like the other novels though, this one is very well plotted, and very much a page-turner. The character of D is well developed, and this means that the monopoly he has on our attention is not a problem. However, the main heroine (and love interest) is not very believable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Greene felt he had to have a love interest just to conform to the expectations of the genre. Nonetheless, the heroine plays an important part in the development of the plot on multiple occasions.

The confidential agent was written in 1939, and though D’s country is never identified, it’s clearly based on Spain, which went through a nasty civil war in the 30s. Greene conveys an atmosphere of depressing bleakness very well. It really does suggest that the 1930s were totally miserable.

To read next:

Granta 66: Truth and lies.

I didn’t write on Thursday last week because I was away on a very nice (though brief) trip to Tübingen. It really is a beautiful town, and the weather was great. There's a short photo tour on the University's web-site. I didn't see very much of the town because I was only there for two nights, and all of the one full day I had was taken up with a project review meeting. The meeting was held in the computer science department, which is on the edge of town. Our room looked out over beautiful countryside: hills, trees and idyllic quietness.

The contrast with the window I'm looking out of at the moment is complete. My working view is of the tan coloured bricks of the Lion Yard car-park, a real eye-sore, next to the back-side of the Crowne Plaza hotel, a modern monstrosity of zero character. As for quiet, we have to keep our windows closed all the time because the road below us is where the cars queue for the parking building. It's possible that our new building will be better, but nowhere in Cambridgeshire looks quite like what I saw in Tübingen.

The reason I didn't write yesterday is that I was too busy catching up with things that happened while I was away.