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The Unquiet Englishman

A Life of Graham Greene

Richard Greene


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A vivid, deeply researched account of the tumultuous life of one of the twentieth century’s greatest novelists, the author of The End of the Affair.

One of the most celebrated British writers of his generation, Graham Greene’s own story was as strange and compelling as those he told of Pinkie the Mobster, Harry Lime, or the Whisky Priest. A journalist and MI6 officer, Greene sought out the inner narratives of war and politics across the world; he witnessed the Second World War, the Vietnam War, the Mau Mau Rebellion, the rise of Fidel Castro, and the guerrilla wars of Central America. His classic novels, including The Heart of the Matter and The Quiet American, are only pieces of a career that reads like a primer on the twentieth century itself.

The Unquiet Englishman braids the narratives of Greene’s extraordinary life. It portrays a man who was traumatized as an adolescent and later suffered a mental illness that brought him to the point of suicide on several occasions; it tells the story of a restless traveler and unfailing advocate for human rights exploring troubled places around the world, a man who struggled to believe in God and yet found himself described as a great Catholic writer; it reveals a private life in which love almost always ended in ruin, alongside a larger story of politicians, battlefields, and spies. Above all, The Unquiet Englishman shows us a brilliant novelist mastering his craft.

A work of wit, insight, and compassion, this new biography of Graham Greene, the first undertaken in a generation, responds to the many thousands of pages of letters that have recently come to light and to new memoirs by those who knew him best. It deals sensitively with questions of private life, sex, and mental illness, and sheds new light on one of the foremost modern writers.

Praise For The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene

As [Graham] Greene’s rate of book and film production increases, the narrative becomes a dizzying merry-go-round of travel, publication, sex, alcohol, religion, money, adultery, self-loathing, intrigue and betrayal…[The Unquiet Englishman] bounds along with fluency, clarity and wry humour.

— John Walsh

Thank goodness for Richard Greene, whose splendid one-volume biography…conjures [Graham Greene] in all his perplexing variety…Cogently argued and happily free of jargon, [The Unquiet Englishman] offers a long-needed antidote to ‘dirty linen’ biographers who have sought to expose a darker shade of Greene and, in consequence, lost sight of the books. At last Graham Greene has the biographer he deserves.

— Ian Thomson

Cause for celebration…[Richard Greene] gives us a nicely written and well-judged cradle-to-grave portrait that needed to be conventional and unshowy, and is all the better for it…[He] has mastered a tremendous amount of material.
— Nicholas Shakespeare

[Richard Greene] writes briskly and engagingly, with a wry wit and an endearing fondness for trivia and puns…[Graham] Greene emerges from these pages in three dimensions, as a uniquely fascinating man…We badly needed a sympathetic but clearheaded life of Greene, and this book fills the gap admirably.
— Jake Kerridge

Insightful... Though the narrative never loses its focus on Greene as an artist, readers will learn much about the daunting ideological barriers that Greene pushed through to craft his art... A complete portrait of a many-faceted titan.

Vivid…it’s awe-inspiring that Greene fit so much into a single life, and it’s no small feat that his latest biographer has so skillfully captured that life in a single work.

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393084320, 608pp.

Publication Date: January 12, 2021

About the Author

Richard Greene is a professor of English at the University of Toronto. He is the author of two books of nonfiction and four volumes of poetry. Also the critically acclaimed editor of Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell and Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, he lives in Toronto, Canada.