Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, where corruption and terror reign. Disillusioned and noncommittal, they are the “comedians” of Greene’s title, hiding from life’s pain and love behind their chosen masks.
©1965 Graham Greene (P)1993 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Graham Greene arouses responses of curiosity and attention comparable to those set up by Malraux…Faulkner and Hemingway.” (New Statesman)
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
"We mustn't complain too much of being comedians—it's an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed—that's all. We are bad comedians, we aren't bad men."
I started out thinking I was going to just listen to a 'minor' Greene, and finished the novel once again shocked by my ability to completely underestimate Greene once again. The Comedians is a dark tragedy set in a Haitian Hell ruled by Papa Doc and his Tonton Macoute. Into this tortured hell floats Brown, the Smiths and Jones. This sad troupe each struggles with overcoming fear, death, love and apathy while dancing on the edge of the abyss. It reminded me a little of Under the Volcano, but instead of one man's struggle with mescal, it is humanity's struggle with apathy and fear.
I don't think he necessarily meant it that way, but his delivery came off snide and condescending instead of ironic and empathic. I don't think Haitians sound as he made them sound, and his American accents were lame caricatures.
It is a wonderful, disturbing story. I would not recommend this version because the reader preforms his task so poorly. I have listened to dozens of recorded books. This was the worst performance I have heard.
The End of the Affair, of course.
I was astounded at how badly the book was read. The reader's attempts at accents were...I don't know what to say...a little like a stew made by a drunken house-painter. Beyond that, the reader betrayed no understanding of timing, inflection, or the intent of the author. He almost manages to ruin the story itself...but not quite.
I somehow missed that Joseph Porter was the narrator. He is a truly awful voice talent. I couldn't get past chapter 2. I don't know if it is a good story - I just can't get past his narration.
Anyone. Really, anyone else.
I would, if only to get a sense of Haiti during the Duvalier regime.
The details Greene poured into this world. You got a strong sense he had seen at least some of the events that occurred in this world.
I had a hard time differentiating between some of his voices, especially for Brown and Jones. His attempts at an American accent for Mr. and Mrs. Smith came off as attempts rather than authentic.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
I picked up The Comedians when it was on sale at Audible because it was by Graham Greene and I really liked The End of the Affair. I started reading it because Shusaku Endo was frequently compared to Graham Greene (and Greene’s endorsement of Silence is one of the more famous endorsement lines–“Endo, to my mind, is one of the finest living novelists”).
It was really my desire to understand Endo, more than my enjoyment of the book that kept me listening to the audiobook. The reader was intentionally dry. That matched the content, but did not enhance the listening. The book started and ended well, but there was some meandering in the middle that makes sense in the larger context of the books but I got a bored for a good 100 pages.
It really was not until about 1/3 of the way through the book that Greene references the reason for the title. In a public conversation with a woman that Brown (the main character) is having an affair with, he suggests that they are all really comedians. He is using an older meaning of comedian, the idea that Greek actors held different masks. But also (not mentioned, but I think understood) that Greek Comedies were usually poking fun at the powerful of the age. It is not really satire. But there is some hint of that idea.
The book opens with Brown, Smith and Jones all on a boat headed toward Haiti. Brown owns a hotel in Haiti during the oppressive government of Papa Doc Duvalier. Jones is an unknown, but suspected from fairly early on of being a con man. Smith (and his wife) are from the United States. He was a very minor presidential candidate that is a proponent of vegetarianism as a way of life and a method toward world wide peace.
Brown, aware of the political difficulty, knows how ridiculous it is for Smith to be attempting to create a vegetarian propaganda center in the midst of a repressive dictatorship and severe economic recession. Smith seems to be a stand-in for the US as a whole. Naive but well meaning and in the end unable to actually do anything about the larger situation, but still attempting to help in his own way.
Jones is a minor character in the first half of the book when Brown is primarily concerned with Smith. But eventually Smith leaves and the Jones storyline becomes the main one. I am not going to spoil the book, but what is most interesting about the book is the exploration of how important mixed motives are to any story. Brown, Smith, Jones and the other characters are far from perfect. But there is often good intentions mixed up with less honorable intentions.
There is humor in the book, although it is dry humor. Greene is poking fun at Duvalier and how the powerful countries run over small countries and how the cold war propped up dictatorships. This book was published in 1966. And the exact setting is somewhat vague (but may be clear to people more familiar with the history of Haiti.) I do know that it is after the US initially withdrew from Haiti in 1962 and before the US came back to the US (sometime after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, which Duvalier claimed was the result of him cursing Kennedy.)
I am glad I read this. I did not know much about the history of Haiti. And I think reading about a historical deterioration of society is useful to think about instead of post-apocalyptic future fantasy. The type of deterioration of society that is going on in Syria has happened before on different scales. But this is not a super engaging novel. There were several places that I might have given up if I had not really wanted to finish because of the relationship to Endo. I will pick up another book or two from Greene, because he really is a good writer and I really did love The End of the Affair. But this is not one of my favorite classic novels. (But it really did pick up in the 100 pages or so.)
I can see why so many compare Endo to Greene, even if there was not a known admiration between the two.
Reader and Writer from Colorado Springs carefully disguised as a financial advisor all these years. Who knows what lies below a snowy rooftop?
The narrator's nasal and snotty English accent is sleep inducing. Almost indecipherable. Tried to focus on the story twice. Gave up. Skip this one!
Lover of fiction and beautiful, powerful prose ...
Joseph Porter gives a good rendering of this excellent novel. It would have been more satisfying if he had added more energy to the task. However there is a lovely range of nuances that he uses for the various colourful characters. Greene's brilliant prose underscores the entire experience. I look forward to reading the novel soon.
Greene is a master story teller and always an intense observer of the world in which he places his story. I'm always intrigued as he questions faith and the good and evil which concern the human condition.
You'll like this: it's an interesting exploration of life in Cold War Haiti with compelling characters and an important but tragic lesson for those who think they can remake societies.
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