Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book 155, Monaco: "Loser Takes All" by Graham Greene

Guess what? I decided that I *would not* let a second month go by wherein I'd only read one book for this blog. So I hitched a ride with my dad over to Jurong East Regional Library, and lo and behold, procured this:

It's a novella about Bertram, a 40 year-old London assistant manager of accounting and a bit of a loser - except that he's about to marry a sweet 20 year-old girl named Cary at a quiet church ceremony. Then, through the off-handed magnanimity of the major shareholder in his company, he ends up having the ceremony in Monte Carlo, Monaco - but when they're stranded at the hotel without the cash to pay their way any further, what can they do? Gamble their way into millions, that's what! And encounter all the ups and downs of riches while that takes place.

Now, I've only read one other Graham Greene novel, The Quiet American, which happens to have been published in 1955, the very same year this came out. And I can't help but be struck by the similarities between the two. Both feature:

1. A middle-aged, unremarkable first-person protagonist who is British and male,

2. and who also happens to be with an innocent 20 year-old (in The Quiet American, her name's Phuong) who appears bubble-headed and flighty but is in reality utterly devoted and surprisingly canny about the ways of life,

3. although there's an awful middle-aged woman involved - in The Quiet American it's Fowler's existing wife who won't grant him a divorce so he can remarry; in Loser Takes All it's Bertram's cheating sexpot of a deceased wife, plus a lady he picks up in the casino just to make Cary feel jealous.

4. Oh yes, and there's a handsome young man around who makes the protagonist jealous (the eponymous quiet American in The Quiet American; a young gambler named Philippe in Loser Takes All), but who does not deserve the girl, dammit.

5. And there's also machinations of power in the background - it's the Vietnam War in The Quiet American; it's the battles for money and power amongst the shareholders in Loser Takes All.

6. Plus, they both take place in exotic locations most Brit readers could only dream of visiting - Monaco! Vietnam! Not so much unlike an Ian Fleming novel after all. (Although it is remarkable that Loser Takes All was published a year before Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier - hence, it's set in the dowdy days of Monaco, before its great glamorisation.)

Of course, the two books are different, in substantial ways. First off, this one's just a novella, 110 pages long in fairly large print. And second, while The Quiet American is about the corruption of war and imperialism and all, Loser Takes All is about the corruption of wealth and greed - the money spoils everything, and Cary's the only one who can see that clearly.

And yes, this was a hell of a fun read. Probably useful for my writing, too. Although I do still feel bad about losing my copy of The Ruling House of Monaco. Will have to cough up some cash for that.

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Representative quote: There are so many faces in streets and bars and buses and stores that remind one of Original Sin, so few that carry permanently the sign of Original Innocence. Cary's face was like that - she would always until old age look at the world with the eyes of a child. She was never bored: every day was a new day: every grief was eternal and every joy would last for ever. 'Terrible' was her favourite adjective - it wasn't in her mouth a cliché - there was terror in her pleasures, her fears, her anxieties, her laughter - the terror of surprise, of seeing something for the first time. 

Next book: Johanna Spyri's Heidi, from Switzerland.

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