Book based on interviews with Graham Greene’s last mistress panned in the Sunday Times

In the U.K. Sunday Times, Humphrey Carpenter reviews In Search of a Beginning, a book compiled from a series of interviews with Graham Greene’s final mistress, Yvonne Cloetta. He indicts it as a series of clichés about Greene’s Catholicism and guilt over his philandering.

Despite Carpenter’s generally negative reaction, he concedes:

at rare moments, something different peeps through. There is the night in Paris when Greene makes a huge misjudgment and carts off the ladylike Cloetta and a female dinner guest to a red-light district and enters into negotiations with the madam of a brothel. He is apparently arranging for some sort of sex show to be put on, but Cloetta bursts into tears and they leave. Talking to Allain, she admits to being disillusioned by the experience: “The statue had truly fallen off its pedestal.” But, she goes on hastily, “The incident did not last long, however, and it was of no relevance or consequence as far as our relationship was concerned.”

It’s hard to take the critique too seriously, given that Carpenter starts off with the assertion (framed as a knowing question) that all of Greene’s books after Brighton Rock and Stamboul Train (except for A Burnt-out Case and The Third Man) “tend to blur into a hazy Greeneland of whisky priests, quiet Americans and adulterous spies racked with Catholic guilt.” He fails to mention The End of the Affair, which includes none of these ingredients.

The Times assigned Carpenter a prior review of a nonfiction work about Greene: Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri. You’d think it would be possible to track down a critic more respectful of Greene’s work.


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