Customer Reviews: The Tenth Man
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One of Greene's "entertainments," this short novel written in 1944 was hidden away for nearly forty years before being discovered in the MGM files. Written as the idea for a film, the novella is a fine example of Greene's style, as finished and polished as any of his more complex novels.

Set in France during the war, the story concerns a group of thirty Frenchmen imprisoned by their German occupiers and then told that they must decide for themselves which three of the thirty men will be executed. One of the men who draws a marked ballot for his own death is a wealthy lawyer with considerable property who offers his entire fortune to any man who will take his place. One young man accepts, drawing up legal papers which give his newly acquired property to his sister and mother before he is executed.

The remaining three parts of the novel deal with the return of the now-penniless former owner to "his" house after the war, where he meets the dead man's sister and works as a servant under a new name; the arrival of an imposter who claims to be the former owner; and the showdown between the former owner and the imposter.

As is always the case with Greene, the dialogue is taut, revealing character and plot simultaneously, with no extraneous chat. The main character, like so many others Greene depicts, is a weak man whose bad choices, in this case his decision to buy his own life, have led to the complications which become the story. Living a lie, Chavel/Charlot faces a crisis of morality in which he must decide what, if anything, he can do to redeem himself to atone for the life-or-death decision he forced upon another man. The imposter who arrives at the house claiming to be the former owner is described as resembling a devil, and the showdown between him and the real former owner is seen as the struggle between goodness and evil.

Filled with ironies and absurdities, the novel maintains considerable suspense until the dramatic, tour de force of an ending. Too short to allow for much character development, the novella conveys a strong message within an exciting little morality tale filled with sharply observed details--simple without being simplistic. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon April 28, 2006
Greene's writing is phenomenal. He has few words, and packs in oceans of meaning. I've read other authors who publish some 10 books in one series and are still writing- and nothing happens for entire books. This is the opposite type of writing. This is the kind of book that forces you to put the book down after a chapter to contemplate what your life is like and where it is going. And each chapter runs about 3 pages long. I will be dwelling on the final page, the final paragraph, for a long time.

Greene knows life. He has a depth of wisdom that he brings in to the characters that goes beyond the simple ethical dilemma of whether or not it is permissable to purchase one's life at the expense of another. Sometimes, dying for another is the easy part. It is the dying every day that is far more difficult. Less glorious, less noticed, but far more eternal.
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on December 21, 2002
This short "entertainment" lacks the intensity of a major novel, but the tightly constructed plot makes this book worth the read. Graham Greene combines his fantastic prose with a few fantastic twists. What whould happen if you could trade all of your possesions for a second chance at life? Greene takes a stab at this very intiguing question, and throws in enough curveballs to keep you guessing until the end.
True, the characters may be flat, but the story is vivid, creative, and well worth a look.
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Greene presents us with a brilliant morality tale. He quickly sets up his protagonist's choice and then moves to the surprising consequences. If you had the means to buy your 'salvation' would you? Even if it meant that another man would have to die in your place...literally paying someone to die for you? And for the man who is willing to take your offer, what does his sacrifice mean for those he's left behind? Greene deftly entertwines both of these stories into one. I agree that the characters are not well-drawn enough to make us truly care for them. However, the book succeeds on how it makes you consider the consequences of one's choices.
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on October 15, 1999
This little story is tightly constructed and gripping. A rich lawyer is incarcerated during the war with a bunch of ordinary joes. As a result of hostage-type negotiations, a set number of them are designated for random executions. The prisoners draw lots to determine those to die, and the lawyer is one of the losers. Desperate to live, he offers all his estate to anyone who will trade places. The man who drew the 10th lot takes him up on the offer, accepts the estate as payment for his life, and has the lawyer make out a will leaving the wealth to his family. The guilt over this "act of cowardice" haunts the lawyer to his grave.
This story is hard to put down and gracefully written, but the characters are relatively flat, 2-dimensional figures. They are useful symbolically, but not terribly convincing as real people. All in all the tale reads more like a parable than a novel.
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on May 19, 2004
Graham Greene has always struck me as an author who took little joy in writing. His short stories are very short, and some of his novels tread the fine line between novel and novella. But what he puts into those brief pages are stunning, and definitely leaves you yearning for more.
THE TENTH MAN is probably the one that best exemplifies this feeling. The novel ended so quickly (for me) that I was angry it was over. Not because I felt cheated, but because he had me so taken in by the plot and the tensions created by the choices the characters made, that I wanted it to go on, even just a little longer. But by all means, pick up THE TENTH MAN and just about anything else by Graham Greene.
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VINE VOICEon August 9, 2010
"The Tenth Man," is a bleak suspenseful thriller, a crime drama of a novel, and a puzzling anomaly in the writing career of distinguished British author Graham Greene. For years, I couldn't figure it out. It is only 156 pages, really novella length, yet it has his usual power, though it lacks the accreted detail I've gotten used to in his work. Still, it gives us an excellent picture of wartime, occupied France, and the people who had to live there; the city of Paris, and the countryside at the time. Greene's characters, as ever, are sharply drawn, and ring true to their natures.

It is set in 1944, in a Gestapo prison in occupied France, during World War II, where 32 Frenchmen have been taken hostage. Local resistance activity causes the Germans to decide that one of every ten men - three men--must therefore meet their deaths by firing squad, but they don't care which three men. The hostages draw lots. Jean Louis Chevel, a lawyer and a rich man, gets one of the marked ballots; he offers his entire fortune, and all his holdings, to the heirs of any man who will take his place, and a sickly young man Michel Mangeot, known as "Janvier," agrees. As the Germans are driven out of France in 1944--Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, and the war ends for the French, the hostages are released, and Chevel, not knowing what else to do, finds his way to his hereditary estate in the country. There, under an assumed name, he finds Janvier's mother and sister installed, and becomes their unpaid handyman. He falls a little in love with the sister, but realizes that mother and sister hate "Chevel" for taking Janvier's life. Then, suddenly, another man shows up, claiming to be Chevel. It is a bleak tale, as noted above, much briefer and less detailed than the author's usual work, although, in this latest crisis in his life, Chevel may be considered at least to have rediscovered his humanity and his courage.

The author, it turns out, amazingly enough, wrote the novella in 1944, well before VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945. He wrote it as a film treatment for the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he was under contract, along with a couple of other treatments, one of which is very clearly the germ of his remarkable novel Our Man In Havana. At any rate, both Greene and the studio forgot about the existence of these treatments and they lay in the MGM archives until 1983, when someone found them and decided to publish at least THE TENTH MAN. Greene could barely remember writing the treatment, and thought it was only a few pages: he was mightily surprised to discover it was more than 150; and, as it was determined it was to be published, he worked on cleaning it up a bit. It was published in 1985. Then, as happened with many, if not most of his works, it was filmed, under the same title,The Tenth Man, as a 1988 television episode for the American show, "Hallmark Hall of Fame." And it got the all-star treatment: Anthony Hopkins (The Hannibal Lecter Collection (Manhunter / The Silence of the Lambs / Hannibal)) played Chavel; Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral) played Therese Mangeot, Janvier's sister. Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius) played the imposter Chevel; Cyril Cusack (My Left Foot) played the priest. I caught this movie once on late-night TV, and, as noted above, wondered about it for years.

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. Some of his writing highlights are The Power and the Glory,The End Of The Affair, and The Third Man. 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. He created morally complex characters, while he explored moral and theological dilemmas through psychologically astute character studies, presented in exciting dramas on the international stage.
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on March 12, 2013
Greene wrote a treatment of this work in the 1940s for a filmed version, then (if I recall) fleshed it out further. For the next four + decades it sat in someone's desk, and then perhaps in a vault. In any event, it was forgotten.

Then MGM, which owned the work from way back in the day, went forward with the project. Greene later turned it into a book — this one.

It's about a man, as Greene's books usually are, and what he does (and doesn't do) to live up or down to that status, that of a man. In this case, the man makes a Devil's bargain — with himself and one other — and must live with the consequences. It feels a little forced at the end but the rest of it is still Graham Greene. Hence 4 stars.

The filmed version was made for British TV, and the production quality shows. But the acting — Anthony Hopkins, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi (along with one fellow you'll recognize from Downtown Abbey) — is first-rate, and partially rescues the movie.

Whether or not the man will be rescued, well, you'll have to read it to find out.
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on January 4, 2016
Graham Greene is not the first celebrated writer to lose a completed manuscript, but he is certainly one of the few to have found it decades later and spruced it up for publication. "The Tenth Man" is stronger on story than on characterisation, with a plot that teases out some fascinating moral complexities. Is an innocent man of independent means, rounded up in a group of hostages by the Nazis in occupied France, right or wrong to buy back his life from another when he draws the tenth short straw for execution? What of the other who takes his place in the belief that he is doing the best to secure his family's future? Into this mix, Greene throws a third man, a collaborator and criminal on the run, who senses huge opportunity in manipulating the emotions of the rich, but bitter sister and the morally bereft survivor. With many clever twists, Greene challenges his reader to puzzle out the value of fortune, identity and reputation. The result is a quick but intriguing read.
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VINE VOICEon June 22, 2015
How far would you go to avoid death? Would you be willing to pay someone else to take your place? If so, would you be able to live with yourself afterwards? These are some of the challenges confronted in this short novel. Jean-Louis Chavel is a French lawyer, being held hostage by the Nazis during World War Ii, along with twenty-nine of his countrymen. When the Germans demand that they choose three of their group to face execution as reprisal for the deaths of German officers, Chavel draws one of the unlucky lots. Faced with his impending death, be begins to plead, offering everything he owns if someone will take his place. Surprisingly, a fellow prisoner nicknamed Janvier accepts the offer. Chavel signs over all his possessions to Janvier, who then writes a will leaving them to his mother and sister.

The rest of the story focuses on Chavel’s struggle to come to terms with his actions. He finds himself at his old home, with Janvier’s sister and mother, pretending to be someone else. Initially, he seems to be looking to find a way to recover what he had given away. But when someone else shows up pretending to be him, things change, and Chavel finds a way to redeem himself.

This is a powerful story about courage and cowardice, and the consequences of paying someone else to die in your place. It is a short, but well written story about accepting responsibility and coming to terms with our weaknesses.
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