Book reviews

Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul (Bodley Head, 1973)

Seventies politics aside, novel still relevant for fatherless young men

A friend recommended this novel for its abortion content, and it does mention that issue as well as infanticide.  However, what makes this work of dead white male literature more interesting for today is its depiction of men who suffer from father loss.  Thus, it comports with the best of academic discussion about the masculinist literary theory.

Plot details need not be elaborated here.  What I see in this work is more interesting: the deep hurt several male characters feel being fatherless, the connection between loss of Christian faith and support for abortion and infanticide, and the compelling nature of love which overcomes even the most disgusting and violent political and terrorist activity.

Dr. Eduardo Plarr, the ostensible protagonist of the novel, is the father of a child presumed to be the Honorary Consul’s, Charley Fortnum’s.  Unlike most dads who rejoice in their unborn children, Plarr not only may have done abortions (128), but also thinks of his unborn child as “a useless part of Clara like her appendix” (265).  Although it is a redeeming quality of this character that, eventually, “the child became real to him” (265), shortly after this affirmation of life, Plarr recounts how he would have committed infanticide of “a child born without hands and feet.  I would have killed it” (283).  Today’s disability rights and pro-life communities would be outraged at such violence against a handicapped newborn.

But then, what else can one expect from a physician who lost his Catholic faith?

Besides that, Plarr is just another man who is missing a vitally important element in his life, his father.  Reinforcing heterosexual normativity may not have been Greene’s intent on writing the novel in 1973, but the pain these men feel is obvious and worthy of college students’ exploration, especially if they have to write a literary research paper using one of the sanctioned theories demanded by leftist professors.

Consider: the discussion of masculinist literary theory concepts begins early in the novel, in an initial contrast between Latin-American and British men (16).  Plarr wonders whether his father is alive or dead; he learns late in the work that his father was killed trying to escape his imprisonment for political activity (219). Oddly, shortly after this revelation (three pages later), the author chose to include an account of a man who did not know who his father was (222).  Equally odd is Plarr’s declarative/interrogative that “We all of us seem to live with dead fathers, don’t we?” (272).  Does any college student detect ideas for a good research paper?

Best of all, though, the novel ends with an episode demonstrating the compelling nature of love.  The child whom Clara is carrying, conceived by Plarr, will not merely be raised by Charley Fortnum, but truly loved by him.  The unborn child is evidence that “Someone he [Charley] loved would survive” (335).

Thus, a novel concerned with terrorist activity, which mentions abortions and suicides and which illustrates the class warfare of Latin American society in a turbulent historical period, ends with that most life-affirming literary device: a newborn child bringing love to a shattered world.

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