The Comedians

Greene, Graham. The Comedians. London: The Bodley Head, 1966.

When The Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti didn’t come fast enough I grabbed The Comedians off the shelf in our own library. It fit with the purpose: to celebrate December as the best time to vacation in the Caribbean.

The Comedians starts out at sea. A small handful of passengers are traveling to Haiti; notably Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Because of their common names there is an air of mystery to their characters. Curiously, their first names are never revealed. As Mr. Brown (telling the story) points out, they could be anyone. Although, as the reader will discover, they are not. they are comedians, pretenders. Mr. Smith is a United States Presidential candidate on the “Vegetarian platform” of 1948. He arrives in Port-au-Prince with his wife looking to start a vegetarian center. Mr. Jones is a shady character with a dubious past. He appears to be on the run from British authorities and full of tall tales. Nothing he says is believable. Mr. Brown, as narrator, is a man without a country. He owns a failing hotel and is having an affair with a South American Ambassador’s wife. His existence is on the fringe of life. He’s always forgetting that the phones work.
All three men are ruined souls, barely playing out their parts. The backdrop for The Comedians is the real-life tyrannical and violent Papa Doc and his shadowy secret police, the Tonton Macoute. Jones, Brown and Smith are vehicles to introduce the reader to the poverty, the voodoo, the political unrest, and the eventual yet unsuccessful uprising of the rebellion army.

Favorite lines, “His slang, I was to find, was always a little out of date as though he had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition” (p 12), “Perhaps it was only my nerves that lent him an expression of repulsive cruelty” (p 120), and my favorite, “Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel” (p 308).

Author fact: Graham Green was born Henry Graham Green and was bipolar.

Book Trivia: The Comedians was made into a movie in 1967 starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones among others.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain (p 55).

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