August 2001/September 2001
Books In Review
Loving Graham Greene
By Gloria Emerson
Reviewed by William F. Crandell
In a tapestry of made-up minds, honest reporters live at risk.
Gloria Emerson was such a reporter in Vietnam and in Gaza. She
pays affectionate tribute to perhaps the greatest thriller writer
in Loving Graham Greene by sending quirky heiress Molly
Benson, the female protagonist Greene never created, to a doomed
Algeria in order to hire bodyguards for honest journalists.
Like many Greene characters, Benson is a decent person in over
her head in an evil world, whose good works ultimately do harm.
Emersonís reporterís eye and ear won Winners and Losers
the National Book Award with telling details such as the GI who
looked in a mirror and said, "I had no idea who that
was." (Any short list of mandatory books on the Vietnam War
and its veterans should include Winners and Losers.
Emersonís writing skills turn a clever conceit into a
brilliant novel. The determined Molly Benson and her companions
are richly drawn characters in a sparse world of countervailing
menaces, the police state versus Islamic fundamentalism. Molly
adores the sardonic writing of Graham Greene, has met and
corresponded with him, and uses him as her yardstick. Her
character was shaped in opposing the Vietnam War. All her
perceptions of the nature of war, power, and men are colored by
that warís dark stains.
Mollyís an ironic, irritating heroine--a tall, middle-aged,
ferociously liberal woman. She knows every book Greene ever wrote,
down to the names of the dogs, met him once by chance, pestered
him with letters, and undertakes her mission to carry on his
Her devotion to the British writer makes this an intelligent
novel as well as an exciting read, and a first-rate introduction
and critique for Grahamís work to the uninitiated. Algeriaís
civil war in the shadows tightens its noose as the innocents look
for ways to save the outspoken. The authorities want to deny there
is a struggle the police state is losing, and the Islamic
fundamentalists cannot tolerate any reporting that is not their
own version of events. Thus, the honest reporters Molly seeks to
protect are at risk because they tell the truth in a setting where
that is heroic.
The naive, half-informed Pyle in Greeneís The Quiet
American was "impregnably armoured by his good intentions
and his ignorance." Unlike the quiet Pyle in a French
Indo-China that is slipping away, Emersonís noisy Benson has a
capacity to understand there is a great deal she doesn't
Emerson wrote Loving Graham Greene with a scalpel dipped
in ink, every detail as perfect as the story and characters. This
funny, literate thriller is a tribute to the power of the word to
inspire action in the face of despair.