jueves, 26 de mayo de 2011

The Captain And The Enemy by Graham Greene

The Captain And The Enemy is one of Graham Greene’s late works. Like most of his novels, it is quite short, deceptively intense and, despite what might appear to be a quite literal plot, highly enigmatic.

Then captain of the title is a man we hardly get to know. His name might be Smith, or Baxter, or even anything he might have noticed in passing that morning. His title might be captain, or colonel, or sergeant, or even plain mister. Doubtless he had been Lord at some point. He can become anyone he wants, but at heart he’s a pirate, sailing alone through life in search of elusive treasure. One day he was whiling time away with an acquaintance, a man always called The Devil, playing backgammon (or was it chess?). The stakes rose and The Devil wagered his son. The colonel won. The book opens with the colonel claiming ownership of Victor Baxter, then a boy at a boarding school. The colonel abducts the boy. They both agree that Victor is a naff name and from then on the boy is called Jim.

At home, if home it be, is Lisa, the woman to whom the captain continues to devote his life, even if the norm is devotion from afar. Lisa gets irregular cash or cheques through the post to cover the housekeeping and never questions the source. The Captain, of course, never offers anything more. Jim, as the lad Victor has become, becomes part of the insoluble equation. He keeps a journal for some reason and, discovering it years later, he embarks upon an edit.

And then Jim is grown up and in search of the man he now calls his father. He left Lisa and the household years before in search of fortune. Jim tracks him down to Panama and discovers a strange life packed with intrigue. When they meet again, Jim finds a changed man, someone he hardly recognises. Jim’s response is to lie to him.

The Colonel is eventually revealed as a man with principles, principles worth personal risk. At least that’s what he says today, and who ever knows about tomorrow?

And so we are left with memories of people who live towards the edge of even their own lives. They adopt identities bestowed by circumstance and change apparently at will. Who cares about contradiction? I mean really cares?

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