Friday, July 13, 2007

The Captain and the Enemy

I drove to Nashville, TN this week - about eight and a half hours over Interstates 40, 74, 77, 81, and 40 again. I had a blow out (my first) on I-81, climbing a long hill in Tennessee between Bristol and Knoxville. I changed the tire in under 20 minutes (that's what doing your own rotations does - six tire changes to rotate with a scissor jack) and was back up to 70 MPH, blessing my local Hillsborough tire merchant (Braxton's) for persuading me about four years ago to replace my silly donut spare with a real tire.

But while I was changing that tire I was actually busy thinking about the Captain, "Jim," and mostly, who is the Enemy. I never came to a conclusion on that last question, though I have several pet theories.

Graham Greene's The Captain and the Enemy was read for me (on tape) by Kenneth Branagh, who did his usual masterful job. The personalities of the Captain, "the Devil," Liza, Quiggly, and "Jim" are all subtly and intelligently portrayed in dialogue that sweeps you away in the first few pages. The Captain is so deliciously slippery and likable - like the most charming con-men encountered anywhere in literature.

The premise is that the Captain wins the boy (aged 12) from his father in a game of backgammon, gets a note from the father to take the boy out of boarding school for the day, and heads with him for London, where Liza has always wanted a child... Since the boy was miserable in school (how many fictional boys in boarding school aren't?) it all seems like a holiday, a reprieve, a stay of execution.

But this is only the beginning, as an unusual and touching love story unfolds in the most unlikely settings. The characters are few, but unforgettable, like Dickens characters brought up to date. And because it is Graham Greene, the last chapters take place in Latin America, with politics and the shifting lights and shadows of the jungle.

A beautiful, moving work, which will have you thinking deeply about love, and trying to decide who or what is the Enemy. Let me know what you think.


Sherry said...

I've tried Graham Greene a couple of times (not this book), and I've had trouble becoming engaged in the story. I wonder if listening to Kenneth Branagh read one Greene's books would do the trick.

Steve Emery said...

Sherry, I also had a harder time with Graham Greene until we read Monsignor Quixote. That broke him open for us, and we still prefer the books with more humor or a lighter heart. The Captain and the Enemy is lighter, at least the first half is. And I certainly recommend Kenneth Branagh's reading of it. I first heard him on tape in a star studded reading of Othello, where he read (who else) Iago. Marvelous.