woensdag 11 januari 2017

"Stamboul Train" by Graham Greene

“When there was a choice between love of a woman and hate of a man, her mind could cherish only one emotion, for her love might be a subject for laughter, but no one ever had ever mocked her hatred.”

In "Stamboul Train" we follow a couple of very different individuals on board the Orient Express, on their voyage from Ostend to Istanbul. There's Coral Musker, a very young and naïve dancer who is on her way to Istanbul to be a show girl. Carleton Myatt is a Jewish entrepeneur, who is concered that his partner in Turkey is double-crossing him. The lesbian reporter Mabel Warren is travelling with her companion Janet Pardoe. Then there's the teacher Richard John, who is in fact the exiled Serbian communist leader dr. Richard Czinner, and he's on his way to his country to lead a revolt. There's Q.C. Savory, a pompous writer, who provides most of the comic relief, and finally, there's the master thief Josef Grünlich, who is on the run after he murdered someone in a burglary-gone-wrong.

The lives of these characters intertwine as Coral falls in love with Myatt. When she falls ill, she meets dr. Czinner. Meanwhile, Mabel Warren has discovered dr. Czinner's identity, and wants to seal her reputation as a journalist by getting an exclusive interview with him - whatever it takes. The other characters also get involved in this complex web of interactions.

This is a very early Greene novel and it was his breakthrough when it was first released in 1932. Greene separated his novels in serious novels and 'entertainments' (nowadays, we would call them thrillers) and he didn't hide the fact that he wrote the latter mainly for the money. But whatever group his novels are categorised in, Greene always focused on characters. There's an interesting storyline running through the book (actually, there are several), but it's mainly the characters and the way they interact that make this a compelling novel.

The last part of the novel mainly focuses on Myatt's business venture. Frankly, this happens to be the least engaging of the threads in the book, so it's a bit of an anti-climax. This is not Greene's best novel, but it does have flashes of the brilliance we would see in later novels.


Author: Graham Greene
Title: Stamboul Train
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2004 (orig. 1932)
Number of pages: xiii + 197 p.
ISBN: 9780099478362

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