A Burnt-out Case
Graham Greene

I read this book many, many years ago: way back in year nine English. It was the first of the Greene novels we read, followed by Our Man in Havanna and then The Quiet American. I remember really enjoying the latter two, but just not getting A Burnt-out Case. Thinking back on it now this might have been the first serious piece of literature I read. Wow. I had to get over fantasy at some point.

Of the three, this is the most adult and serious. At the core this story is about how you derive your meaning for life. What happens when instead of just accepting your life, you can’t help question. Why you? Do you deserve your successes? Your failures? Your happiness? Your sadness? At some level, it’s very easy to know that we don’t deserve the bad things that happen. We move on, ignore those and wait for something good. But if you’re going to scratch the surface of your life and ask ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ of the good things that happen, what answer do you get back? Are we set up to accept and enjoy success? Wuerry has scratched and examined; questioned and dug deep at the heart of who he thinks he is, until there was nothing left to scratch. And then he is on a small boat to a leprosarium in the heart of Belgian colonial Africa.

I’m very glad that I’ve finally re-read this book. Greene remains one of my favourite authors. Every book I read of his seems to be better than the last. Of course that can’t be true - but it sure feels like it. Now, as I look through his list of books, there aren’t many more that I’ve heard about that I am yet to read. This makes me sad. I’ll be re-reading Our Man in Havanna at some point, and that gives me hope. I’d have never heard of that one if I hadn’t already read it. There’s no reason not to randomly try others then!

It is a pity that the Nobel Prize committee could never look past Greene’s devout Catholicism. Though with Catholic themes and characters, his books are always much more than that. If there is anyone who deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, it’s Graham Greene.