Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene

"You can go now."
I turned my back and began to make for the classroom where I was overdue.
"I meant go with this gentleman, Baxter . . . What class do you miss?"
"Divvers, sir."
"He means Divinity," the headmaster told the Captain. He glared at the door across the quad from which wild sounds were emerging, and he swept his black gown back over his shoulder. "From what I can hear you will miss little by not attending." He began to make great muffled strides towards the door. His boots - he always wore boots - made no more sound than carpet slippers.
"What's going on in there?" the Captain asked.
"I think they are slaying the Amalekites," I said.
"Are you an Amalekite?"
"Then we'd better be off."

12-year-old Victor Baxter is taken out to lunch by a stranger who produces a note of permission from Victor’s father (aka, “the Devil”) on his birthday. While eating, the stranger--whom Victor comes to know only as “the Captain”--informs the child that he was won fair and square in a game of backgammon and then takes him to stay with a timid woman named Liza and changes Victor’s name to Jim. Because his mother is dead and Victor, now Jim, has never been happy either at his boarding school or with the aunt who has agreed to care for him between school terms (the Devil is seldom present), the boy accepts his kidnapping without complaint and even finds himself fairly happy living with a shifty man who is very likely a thief and a woman who has been damaged by an encounter with his own Devil father.

I was so curious as to other readers’ feelings about this book that I made the mistake of going to Amazon to read reviews, midway through reading The Captain and the Enemy. Big mistake; the first review contained a major spoiler. Don’t go to Amazon to read reviews unless you're willing to have a plot spoiled! I did, however, learn that this was Graham Greene’s final novel and that it’s not considered his best by the readers who left reviews. Reading on about Greene, elsewhere on the net, I discovered that Graham Greene was bullied in boarding school and eventually sent away to London for therapy and a change of pace. Aha! He began to sound much like Victor . . . or, rather, Jim.

I found this an easy and absorbing read and I liked it but must admit that the story was profoundly weird. In the end, I understood that it was a tale that aimed to point out how love can come in different forms. It was a sad, strange novel, very tragic in many ways and quite possibly even more bizarre toward the end; but, I liked the writing and if this were my sole introduction to Graham Greene, it would be enough to tempt me to read more by the author.

I was under the mistaken impression, in fact, that this was my first Graham Greene book. But then I looked up his writings and was reminded of another title, which I read many years ago: Travels with My Aunt. Nothing in that book stuck with me, although I do recall the cover was lavender. Hmmm.

3.5/5 - I thought the book was above average, as it read smoothly and I felt pulled in. I desired to know what would happen to Jim, whether anyone would bother to search for him, who the Captain really was, and whether or not Liza and the Captain would ever profess their love. But, it was also a little twisted and definitely tragic, possible too abrupt in its ending. Not excellent, then, but worth a read.

I don't think this one's a classic, but it's one that's been on the TBRs for a time - yea! One more knocked off the TBR pile!

Yesterday, I watched The Guardian while doing Nordic Track and read bits of Firehouse by David Halberstam. Okay, I'm going to need another upper, soon. I feel a fluff break coming on. Not that Alice in Wonderland isn't plenty light and flaky, but . . . you know. Romance with a happy ending sounds nice. And, maybe another bookmark-making break. I'm still terrified of casting-on; so, 6 weeks post-Christmas, I'm stopped dead on the concept of beginning to knit. There's something about that double casting-on method in Stitch 'n Bitch that confuses me completely. Knitters may feel free to drop by my house to give me a quick lesson. Suddenly, being a hermit seems like a bad thing.

Okay, I'm off to dig up the bills that need to be paid. Happy Thursday!


  1. How did you like 'The Guardian'? I'm wondering if it is worth my time. Normally, I wouldn't even consider it but one of my favorite actors (Clancy Brown) does have a small role in it. Let me know. :)

  2. Anonymous1:22 PM

    That book sounds pretty interesting! I'd never heard of it. I kept trying to make it King Kong - no doubt the cover art.

    Casting on is easy. Just think, mere children used to do it eons ago. It's just the new part. Feel free to ask me any questions! There should be an online tutorial w/pics too.

  3. Kookiejar,

    I loved The Guardian, with one exception. I really hated the fact that they went with what they considered the most "powerful" ending. You can imagine what that means, I suppose. Okay, Clancy Brown. I looked at the cast and I remember seeing his name but I don't know what role he played. I'll have to look. Really, I thought it was very good. I like action, though (heart-pumping action is great for watching while doing Nordic Track because it keeps the boredom away). I thought it was very cool to see a movie about the Coast Guard, too. :)


    King Kong is actually pretty important to Victor/Jim in the book. I thought it was pretty cool that they put that on the cover of at least one version.

    When I was about 9 years old, I had some knitting needles and yarn (my aunt taught me to crochet, but my mother had no interest in knitting and we didn't get around to knitting before my aunt went home). I took the yarn and made these little knots on the knitting needle, just playing. And, my best friend's mother said, "Why, you've just cast on!" So, she showed me how to stitch and switch to the other needle when you make the next row. Unfortunately, I never did learn how to cast off so the needles with about 3 feet of scarf hung in the closet for years. LOL

    Anyway, the only thing that I didn't get was . . . if you're casting on and you use that double-cast method, do you pull off two threads for one stitch when you begin? I just didn't understand that one little thing. Otherwise, I know I'll be fine, once I get going.

    I hadn't heard of The Captain and The Enemy, either - till I opened my cabinet. Lord knows where I got it; probably the library sale. I have a lot of books. :)

  4. I have Halberstam's The Fifties on a shelf waiting to be read. My husband has read it a couple of times and keeps telling me I'd love it. Maybe for Joy's Non-fiction challenge...

    Good luck with the knitting! I might give it a try one of these days, especially since I'm going to be out of work in the next month or so. I'm ready to become a hermit.

    Note: My word verification is pretty funny for this comment. It's "gooufdud"!

  5. That book sounds interesting. I thought I had read something of his but oh well. :)

  6. Hi Les,

    Oh, cool! You'll have to tell me what you think of The Fifties when you get to it. Or, maybe I'll have DSL, by then, and will be able to see for myself. ;) I tried to comment on your page, the other day - unsuccessful, again. Sigh.

    I keep looking at my ball of yarn and thinking . . . "later". I need a handy, dandy aunt to guide me. The aunt who taught me to crochet is in North Platte. I always wished she lived closer.

    You're losing your job watching the nieces? Why? Are they moving or are you deliberately stopping? You could never be a hermit; you're too sociable. :) Love the word verification! Sometimes they're really funny!


    If you haven't read Graham Greene, I'm sure you'll get to him, soon! LOL I'd send you the one I just finished but I've already found it a new home. Finished books are like homeless puppies - it's very important to find them a good, new home. :)

  7. I was thinking about seeing the Gaurdian too.. but I may have to read a spoiler just to see if it has a sad ending. I hate movies that don't have happy endings, so I'd want to save myself if it doesn't. LOL

  8. Angela,

    I've written to you off the comment board, so I won't spoil the ending for anyone else. :)

  9. Bookfool - Sorry you haven't been able to comment on my blog lately! I miss you! I had trouble with yours yesterday. The word for the word verification wouldn't appear after several tries. Finally just saved my comment on the desktop and tried later in the day. Voila! It worked!

    No, the nieces aren't moving, but we'd planned for me to quit this summer. The older of the two is going into kindergarten in August, so the "baby" (2 1/2 in April) would move over to the preschool then. There are several factors in the decision to make the switch next month. The trial is coming up at the end of April and that could run anywhere from 2-3 weeks (meaning they'd have to find someone to watch the youngest niece for that period of time). Plus, we're taking a 2-week-long vacation in July. Not to mention that the little one is getting a bit bored with Auntie and needs a bit more stimulation from kids her own age (and teachers more equipped to entertain and educate little ones). It'll be quite a change for me, since I've been doing this for 4 1/2 years now. But I'm welcoming the opportunity to find something new to do. Or not to do! :)

  10. Les,

    I miss chatting with you. I've left my email with BellSouth so they can notify me when DSL comes back (fingers crossed).

    My blog-hopping ability is so bizarrely sporadic. Some days, I can bounce all over the place and leave comments with no problem; those days are rare, though. I was going to say I'm sorry you didn't enjoy Suite Francaise. There were things I disliked about it, but the sense of time and place won out. :)

    I've had that trouble with the word verification not showing a word, also. It's most frustrating when you lose your post - glad you didn't lose yours.

    Those are good reasons for the end of your job. I thought about the trial and wondered if that figured in anywhere. It seems like a good time to take a break from working. Are you cruising in July?

  11. Yep, we're cruising the San Juan Islands in July. I can't wait! I think we'll both be ready for a nice long vacation. Hmmm, need to find someone to babysit Count Francula!

  12. I could stand a cruise, right about now. LOL I'm sure that will be a blast, Les!

    Count Francula? You're so silly! We have to board our cats and they don't appreciate it but I know they're safe with the vet.

  13. Bookfool: I have been told many times that I SHOULD read Graham Greene; so I just picked up The End of the Affair. It was a movie with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore... anyway, the book is pretty good so far. I'm enjoying it....

  14. Lisa,

    I'm glad you're enjoying The End of the Affair. I'll have to see if I have that one. How was the movie?

    I don't recall anyone telling me I must read Graham Greene, but I spent many years collecting classics whenever I happened across them at library and yard sales, so I have a few more of Greene's titles. It's nice to find out you actually like one of the authors you've stockpiled. LOL

  15. I really liked this book. It deliberately descends towards post-modernism near the end, but covers most of Greene's best themes; his past life as a film reviewer (read "The Pleasure Dome", the collection of Greene's 1930's film reviews for some of his best writing): the themes of "The Lost Chilhood", his classic short stories of conmen, "England Made Me", his earlier friendship with Panama's leader. It is like Greene's personal version of The Tempest, saying "goodbye to all that" in a hallucinatory tour de force. I recommend you read that other star-crossed love story, "Brighton Rock" as well as the two I have mentioned ("The Pleasure Dome" is like a detailed social history of the 30s, and not just for movie buffs).

  16. does anyone know from when to when the story occured...

    and if u dont... how long did it took place??
    was the total story 1 week or 20 years or wathever??

  17. I'm afraid I can't help you with that. It's been 4 years since I read this book. Best of luck finding the information you need.


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