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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Range of Characters in Desperate, Hopeless Plot
"The Honorary Consul" is the first Graham Greene novel I've read, and it is easy to see why Greene has earned so many devoted fans and seemingly over-the-top superlatives over his long career.

Based on this novel, Greene's strength seems to be creating a rich cast of characters, full of different tics, scars, dreams, virtues, and flaws, and dropping them into a...
Published on September 9, 2005 by Scott Schiefelbein

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3.0 out of 5 stars A classical Greene
A very typical Graham Greene-novel with all the classic dilemma's (what is right or wrong? Is there a loving God? What is the meaning of life?) the protagonists are confronted with (with them again a former priest). The setting is the north of Argintina and the abduction - by mistake - of a British honorary consul. Even more than in other Greene-novels there are quite a...
Published 18 months ago by Marc L


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Range of Characters in Desperate, Hopeless Plot, September 9, 2005
By 
Scott Schiefelbein (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) (Hardcover)
"The Honorary Consul" is the first Graham Greene novel I've read, and it is easy to see why Greene has earned so many devoted fans and seemingly over-the-top superlatives over his long career.

Based on this novel, Greene's strength seems to be creating a rich cast of characters, full of different tics, scars, dreams, virtues, and flaws, and dropping them into a plot of balanced tragedy and farce. By stirring great ingredients into a delicious recipe, Greene created a novel to savour and one, I would bet, improves with each reading.

Set in an anonymous border town just on the Argentine side of Paraguay, "The Honorary Consul" focuses on the hapless, accidental kidnapping of Charley Fortnum, the titular honorary consul. A band of revolutionaries, lethally inept, swipe the British Fortnum instead of their target, the American ambassador, whom they wanted to exchange for political prisoners in the Paraguayan dictatorship nearby. Unfortunately for the kidnappers, Fortnum's title is more impressive than his station, and nobody is all that eager to save Fortnum, much less give in to the kidnappers' demands.

Further adding to the travesty of the situation, Fortnum's only connection to the outside world is Dr. Plarr, a half-British, half Argentinian physician who is also having an affair with Fortnum's wife, a former prostitute. Plarr, whose father vanished into the Paraguayan prison system years ago, is a man incapable of emotion -- when it comes to relationships, he's good at the physics but not the chemistry.

Plarr struggles to help the innocent Fortnum escape his looming fate -- if ten political prisoners are not released from Paraguay, the kidnappers will shoot Fortnum. Through his efforts both with the kidnappers and with several possible saviors, Plarr meets and interacts with a host of characters whose range of quirks and passions would be at home in a Casablanca cafe.

Greene writes with an economic, spare prose that is nevertheless powerful, often using dialogue and soliloquies to advance the story rather than long-winded descriptions of setting. Clocking in at under 300 pages, "The Honorary Consul" is a riveting read that probably goes too fast on the first read. I plan on putting it aside for a few months before taking it up again . . . I'm sure I'll catch a bit more meaning the second time around, but there was plenty for the first trip through.

A dark, occasionally depressing novel of lost opportunities, false passions, and the ultimate quest for truth, "The Honorary Consul" is a heck of a read. Check it out.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great characters, August 11, 2003
By 
Thomas More (Scenic Oklahoma) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) (Hardcover)
This is a well-written story combining the elements of a political/spy novel with those of a Greek tragedy. Set in Argentina, Greene tells the tale of a botched political kidnapping which provides the context for an interesting character study. The ineptitude of Greene's kidnappers and their gradual self-destruction, to me, symbolized the disarray and tumult in the lives of each character. Greene's interesting cast of characters includes a chameleon-like prostitute who tailors her personality to accommodate the varying expectations and inadequacies of her clients, a fallen priest who cannot seem to shed his former skin, a marginalized novelist who is crippled by his pride, an emotionless doctor whose heart is as sterile as his instruments, and an inconsequential "honorary" consul who fails at everything except loving. This novel is by no means cheery, but I came away from it with an important reminder that life is lived in vain if lived without having loved--even if that love is unrequited.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Great, June 2, 2005
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This review is from: The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) (Hardcover)
At their best, Greene's novels put ordinary men in difficult moral situations. Then, his characters make heroic, but often self-defeating, moral choices. These great novels include THE POWER AND THE GLORY, THE HEART OF THE MATTER, THE QUIET AMERICAN, and THE COMEDIANS. Read them.

In THE HONORARY COUNSUL, Greene also creates difficult moral situations for his primary characters. But, in this novel, the dilemmas of Father Rivas and Dr. Plarr are without Greene's usual deft balance between choice and disaster.

Instead, Greene creates moral situations that appear doomed almost from the book's beginning. As a result, the choices that Rivas and Plarr make don't seem especially heroic. Instead, these characters seem to be caught in a death machine, which is indifferent to their personal dilemmas.

To a large extent, they are like Charley Fortnum, the novel's honorary counsel, who is kidnapped mistakenly by political revolutionaries. Here, Fortnum, despite lots of misery and recrimination, is basically waiting for the denouement, as the death machine grinds forward.

In Greene's great books, there is also the pleasure of seeing characters move through time and place. In contrast, much of this novel is conversation, with Greene making his points. Many of these are about moral responsibility. But others just seem "writerly", with Greene developing endless ironic connections between apparently dissimilar characters.

Nonetheless, this is a good read and a rewarding book, with the best scene the querulous formation of the Anglo-Argentinean Club.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, pure, simple, December 19, 2010
Graham Greene's The Honorary Consul is a deceptively ambitious project. And this applies as much to the reading of this great work as to its writing. The novel addresses some great themes on a multiplicity of levels and in every case succeeds in both illustrating issues and provoking thought via a deceptively simple story of kidnap and espionage.

The Honorary Consul is set in Argentina. We are in the north, far from the sophistication of cities, on the banks of the Paraná River, cheek by jowl with Paraguay. And over that border there is the iron-fisted rule of the General, an oppression that has created a social orderliness based on fear and persecution.

About twenty years ago, a victim of that oppression, an Englishman resident in Paraguay, put his wife and young son onto a ferry to Argentina. He stayed behind to rejoin the struggle and was not heard of again. The wife took up residence in Buenos Aires and devoted herself to gossip and sweet eating. The son, Eduardo Plarr, went to medical school, qualified and, at the start of the novel, is practising his profession in that small, provincial, northern town. His thoughts regularly cross the river to contemplate his father's possible fate. It is by virtue of his father's nationality that Eduardo calls himself English.

Eduardo is one of just three English residents in the town. Humphries used to be a teacher, while the third, Charles Fortnum, has the title of Honorary Consul. His role is minimal, of course, and his status is less than that. But he ekes a few bob out of the role by the resale of the new car he has a right to import every two years.

Charles is a heavy drinker, preferring whisky of all types, but willing to drink almost anything in the right measure. He and the other two English residents frequent the same bars, restaurants and brothels, and so they also share the same sources of pleasure. Eduardo is surprised to learn that Charles, a sixty-year-old slob, has married one of the girls - a twenty-year-old stripling - from their favoured haunt. He wonders how it will all work long before he becomes her doctor and thereby provides the most thorough examination that medical science knows. When she falls pregnant, she at least is sure whose child it is.

And then one day visitors from Paraguay bring news of Eduardo's father. They have a plan. There is to be a visit by the American ambassador. Charles will actually have to do something. There is to be a visit to a local site. The group of opportunistic Paraguayans plan a kidnap. They will hold the ambassador until named detainees in Paraguay, Eduardo's father amongst them, are released. They carry out their threat, but bungle it. As Charles Fortnum's car passed by, they mistook his CC plate for CD and thereby kidnapped the wrong man. Instead of an American ambassador, they have a merely an honorary consul, and one without much honour. El Tigre, their remote, anonymous commander is clearly not pleased. We never get to know much about El Tigre, but then perhaps we know more than we think.

As ever in Graham Greene, the characters are presented with moral dilemmas. In The Honorary Consul these span the domestic, the religious, the familial and the political. A short review can do no justice to either the complexity of the ideas or the economy and subtlety of the writer's treatment of them. Tragedies ensue and there is even a happy ending of sorts.

A former priest - there's no such thing as a former priest! - grapples with the contradictions of liberation theology on the one hand and the obedience demanded of servile duty on the other. Graham Greene does not resolve all the dilemmas he raises. Good writing, after all, is not about answering questions. But it does necessarily involve asking the right ones. The Honorary Consul is the work of a writer of genius at the height of his powers. It is also the work of a man with a keen sense of politics and morality. And it is also surely one of the few books that all people should list as a must read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, It's Bleak, But Pleasures of Reading It Are Many, August 1, 2010
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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"The Honorary Consul," apparently the 23d novel by Graham Greene, written rather later in his long career, might, perhaps, crassly be described as a bleak, slow thriller. But, of course, that leaves so much out. The book is set in a provincial Argentine town, in the late 1960's, early 1970's. The town is on one side of the Parana, a great muddy river; on the other side lies Paraguay, which, at the time, is suffering under the bloodthirsty military dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner. Argentina, on the other hand, has not yet experienced the bloody military coup that will leave it suffering under extraordinarily bloodthirsty tyranny for many years.

The foreign colony of this provincial Argentine city is small. Principal among the residents is Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a physician, born in Paraguay to a local Latin woman: his English father has vanished into one of Stroessner's prisons. Charley Fortnum, the title character,the honorary consul,is a man of sixty-one who drinks heavily, and has just married Clara, a twenty-year old girl from Senora Sanchez's brothel, the town's only cultural center. Also important in the town is Saavedra, an Argentinean novelist, who sometimes appears to be speaking for his creator. However, the Argentinean publishes lugubrious works that mirror the Latin American obsession with "machismo" that impacts the entire town, and continent. Then there is Colonel Perez, the frightening, knowledgeable, efficient, intuitive local policeman with hooded, sunglass-hidden eyes. Throw in a radical priest or two, some terrorists, and Greene has created a vivid, accurate picture of Latin America at the time.

Fortnum is kidnapped by Paraguayan revolutionaries who meant to take the American ambassador. However, the terrorists decide to make the best of the situation, and threaten to kill the Englishman anyway, if their demands for the release of political prisoners -- one of them Plarr's father--are not met. Needless to say, Plarr is torn, especially since one of the terrorists is an old school friend of his. And Plarr had become the lover of Fortnum's wife. Greene's writing is compact, terse, brilliant in its description of the physical and emotional landscape of his portrait of troubled people, time and place.

The writer traveled widely, as a journalist, and to research his novels. He had great serendipity in his wanderings: many of them occurred at critical times. Obviously, he was in Argentina at a rather fraught time. His sojourn in Mexico produced two books, including the famous The Power and the Glory (Penguin Classics). The Cuban-set Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics) was published in October, 1956; on New Years Day 1959 the revolutionary Castro came down from the Cuban mountains to sweep into power. Greene set his Vietnamese war novel, The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), just before the important battle of Dien Bien Phu. He set The Comedians (Penguin Classics), in the last days of "Papa Doc" Duvalier's tyrannical Haiti regime.

Greene (1904-1991), who was one of the more illustrious British writers of the 20th century, enjoyed a very long life, and a very long, distinguished, prolific writing career. Many of his books were bestsellers; many were made into movies. He was one of the better-known Catholic converts of his time; many of his thrillers, as this one, deal with Catholic themes of guilt and redemption. At the outset of his career, he famously divided his work into novels - the heavier, more philosophical works, and the lighter entertainments. Nobody would call "The Honorary Consul" a light entertainment; nevertheless, it has the author's usual concise wit, and, although its outlook is bleak, the pleasures of reading it are many.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I never told you I had left the Church. How can I leave the Church? The Church is the world. The Church is this barrio, this..., June 8, 2009
By 
Saad Butt (New York City) - See all my reviews
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"The Honorary Consul" written in the early 1970s about a botched kidnapping attempt of an American ambassador in Argentina teems with usual Graham Greene characters all of whom are, not coincidentally, lapsed Catholics. The three main characters are Eduardo Plarr, a half English-half Paraguayan doctor who lacks the ability to love and believe in God. Eduardo has ambivalent feelings toward his father who, for safety reasons, sent him and his mother to Argentina when he was a boy. Throughout the book, he appears to be awaiting his father's return who is thought to be imprisoned in Paraguay. Charley Fortnum is the eponymous honorary consul, who is mistakenly kidnapped in the place of the American ambassador. Having been born and raised in Argentina, Charley has never visited England. He is an alcoholic like his father. He constantly seeks the right measure to get drunk. People need water to live; he needs whiskey. Like Eduardo, he too had a distant relationship with his own father and has difficulty imagining himself being one. Leon Rivas, a rebel, ex-priest and a childhood friend of Eduardo, seeks Eduardo's help with itinerary of the American ambassador to facilitate the kidnapping. Leon plans to exchange the ambassador for ten Paraguayan political prisoners including Eduardo's father. Leon has left the church following a dispute with his archbishop over religious teaching. He has tried becoming a lawyer then a revolutionary and feels he has failed. Like most Greene books the dialogue is focused on the characters' beliefs, contradictory teachings of the Catholic Church, political prisoners, adultery, love and the need to have hope. If one prefers something light-hearted from the author, please consider "Monsignor Quixote" and "Travels with My Aunt."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Honorary Consul is a trip to human darkness, despair and faith in a place called Graham Green land, May 6, 2011
The Honorary Consul is a 1973 novel by Graham Greene (1904-91) one of England's greatest twentieth century novelists. As in many of his works this one is set in an exotic location with fascinating characters cast amid the decline of the British Empire's power and South American machismo political strife. The Church and State are both corrupt failing to minister to the needs of the peasantry of Argentina and Paraguay.

The Plot: Their are three major characters:

Dr. Eduardo Plarr: His father was English; his mother a native of Paraguay. He and his mother fled Paraguay after his father was imprisoned by a dictator. Plarr becomes involved in a fatuous plan launched in Paraguay to kidnap a visiting American ambassador holding him as a captive until ten political prisoners are released by the Argentine government. Plarr is a medical doctor who works in the poverty stricken barrios in a fetid northern Argentinian village. He, Dr. Hastings, an English teacher, and Charlie Fortnum are the only three men with Anglo blood in town. Plarr seduces the wife of Fortnum getting her pregnant. He will also be involved in getting Fortnum freed from captivity.
Plarr is a hedonist who believes life is absurd. He has multiple affairs with married women, visits a brothel and cynically believes human love is not possible. A cynical, worldly wise man of intelligence and complexity.

Father Leon Rivas-The ringleader of the plot to capture the American ambassador. Instead, by mistake, Fornum is seized!
Rivas hs renounced the corrupt Roman Catholic Church, married and claims he no longer has the desire to serve mass.
He forgets the Greene maxim, "Once a priest always a priest." Much of his dialogue is directed at criticisms of Church and State. He is a representative of Latin American liberation theology. Rivas is based on several churchman known to Greene in his South American travels.

Charles Fortnum is the "Honorary Consul"of the British government in Argentina. Fortnum in an elderly rake! He is in love with Clara his young wife. She was a girl who worked in the local house of prostitution prior to her marrige to Charlie. Fortnum is a farmer who loves to get drunk, talk and have sex. He believes in God. We wonder until the last pages of the novel whether he will be executed by the Paraguan rebels or will be freed.

One of the major tropes in the novel is the "father theme." Plarr hopes to see his father who he believes is still alive in Paraguay in a dank jail cell. This is the motivation for his participation in the kidnapping of Fortnum. Fortnum looks forward to fatherhood when he learns Clara is pregnant. He does not know that the father of the baby is Plarr!

Father Leon Rivas has a lover's quarrel with God His Father and his role as a priest (fathere) in his poverty stricken community. He is reminiscent of Greene's whiskey priest in his best known novel "The Power and the Glory."

Graham Greene is an expert at philisophical dialogue. Greene in "The Honorary Consul" also provides taut suspense. We readers wonder how the kidnapping story will be resolved. Will the kidnap plot be resolved? Will Fortnum be exectued or freed by his captors? Will the British government intervene in the case? Greene was a Roman Catholic believer who supported liberation theology in South America.

This is a novel which can be read on many levels. An excellent work by a master novelist! A thought piece extraordinaire!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greene's most enduring novel, January 25, 2007
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) (Hardcover)
In a provincial town 800 km north of Buenos Aires a group of revolutionaries kidnap by mistake Charly Fortnum, the Honorary Consul, instead of the American Ambassador. They request the liberation of 10 prisoners from Paraguay.

The characters are brilliantly drawn and the prose is sparse and taught. Fortnum, sixty-one year old, living on whisky and his disputed status as an "Honorary" British Consul marries a young ex-prostitute from Senora Sanchez's brothel. Dr Eduardo Plarr whose deficient emotions form the heart of the novel. Although Plarr is Clara's lover and the father of the child she's expecting, he still envies Fortnum's love for her because it is a feeling he has never been capable of experiencing himself. Even the minor characters of the kidnappers, Aquino, Father Rivas and Marta are sardonically drawn and during the bungled kidnap, plenty is said among them about justice, faith, love and God during the 3-day confine in a dirty mud and tin hut.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rich with metaphors, ironies and absurdities, May 11, 2014
Graham Greene wrote over thirty novels. ‘The Honorary Consul,’ published when he was sixty-nine was one of his later works. It was not one of his most popular books but does provide readers with a stimulating, funny and quirky narrative about three men of British heritage who live in a nondescript South American town.

The plot revolves around the kidnapping by rebels of one of them, Charley Fortnum, to hold him for ransom until some of their compadres will be released from prison. Fortnum, who is a British Honorary Consul, was actually mistakenly kidnapped in place of an American Ambassador by the inept perpetrators. Most of the narrative is from the point of view of a Dr Eduardo Plarr, South American born, the son of an English father who is one of the prisoners whose release is being sought. The third man with a British connection is Humphries, an eccentric professor of English. Add to this cast an unsuccessful but prolific Brazilian novelist, an uneducated poet philosopher, a Catholic Priest who has been expelled due to cohabiting with a female, a devious army Colonel, a collection of prostitutes, and representatives of British bureaucracy, for a fine mix of mayhem.

Greene’s writing is rich with metaphors, ironies and absurdities. The characters can one moment be free-wheeling devil-may-care reprobates and at other times torn by self-doubt, guilt and contrition. The true nature of love is an insolvable conundrum. The relevance of faith and the existence or non-existence of God is a frequent topic of conflicting theorizing. There is a lot of sardonic verbal sparring which drifts in circuitous aimlessness. The writer plays constantly with his reader’s sense of humour. The comedic ubiquity is what most succinctly characterizes the novel and makes it successful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, February 18, 2014
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It's a great story. Not really that insightful into Argentina unless you've been there (there's more in many names than comes to mind so it's like reading between the lines). Regardless, it really is an entertaining story, a dramatic comedy of sorts. Very worth your while and money.
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The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics)
The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) by Graham Greene (Hardcover - September 11, 2000)
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