A Quiet American by Graham Greene & Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American has been sitting on my shelf for a good long while, and this year’s resolve to read more freely has finally gifted me with the opportunity to take it down off the shelf. Its intriguing beginning introduces Thomas Fowler, an English journalist in Saigon covering the Vietnam War, as he waits for his dinner guest and romantic rival, Alden Pyle, a young and idealistic American operative. Pyle never shows and when Fowler is picked up by the police for questioning, it is revealed that he’s been murdered. The rest of the story unfolds in a weave of flashback and present day, before the United States formerly enters the war.

One of the things that was most fascinating about reading The Quiet American was its pointed bias in examining the rise of the United States as a powerful contender on the world scene, brashly testing its limits in establishing governments and  influencing international politics that  it understands in purely textbooks terms. Fowler’s justifications and beliefs are thoroughly examined while Pyle’s remain vague and when they are apparent, gauche. As a man, and as a stand in-in for the US, he is clearly green, idealistic, bumbling and dangerous. Green writes a compelling novel that is deftly paced, and a page-turner in its own beautiful and understated way. Pyle’s mysterious dealings, and Fowler’s involvement in his demise haunts the spare narrative. Both disturbing and enlightening, The Quiet American is a thought-provoking read and a worthwhile peek at how other countries and cultures view US Foreign Policy. Recommended.

Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide

Ashenden is a charming historical read that concerns itself with the generations of owners and servants living in a manor house built in the English countryside in 1775. Beginning in the present when siblings Charlie and Ros inherit Ashenden upon the death of their great aunt, it meanders back to when its foundations were first carefully chosen and laid. Charlie  and his sister must decide whether to sell it, or keep it for future generations of their family to enjoy. Charlie is happily married and settled in the United States, and sees the expense of the old mansion as prohibitive, but Ros is determined to save it, and has mapped out what she thinks is a plausible plan for its restoration.
Wilhide fills the story with history and atmosphere –  the novel and its vignettes show the house in war time, poverty and at the height of its glory. Even as Ashenden, the novel explores how former owners have gained and lost the house and surrounding property, Ashenden itself  is the star of the show, so much so that its almost pointless to bother getting attached to the people who live, work and die there. Their stories are picked up on a whim and dropped just as quickly, with some coming to more satisfying resolutions than others. Home restoration and architecture are prominently considered within the narrative, and readers who enjoy those details will find them in this pleasant, though rambling meditation on the history of a historic house.


Leave a Comment