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Fearful of fear itself –
the short stories of Graham Greene

‘The End of the Party’
Complete Short Stories
Graham Greene
Penguin

Graham Greene's short storiesGraham Greene described his short stories as ‘scraps’, and ‘escapes from the novelist’s world’. ‘The End of the Party’, however, delves into the serious subjects of death, fear, faith and human relationships – common to many of his novels – woven into a dark, supernatural tale. Written in 1929, ‘The End of the Party’ is one of Greene’s earlier short stories. It originally appeared in Nineteen Stories (1947), and is now included in Twenty-One Stories (1954), and Complete Short Stories (2005).

The narrative centres on twin brothers, Peter and Francis Morton, who share a disconcertingly close bond. They silently understand and experience each other’s reality. Peter is the stronger twin and tries to protect his fragile and anxious brother. Greene plays with the complex nature of relationships between twins – the strange juxtaposition of loyalty and repulsion towards what is essentially a double identity. They have been invited to an annual birthday party, at which hide and seek is always played. Francis is intensely afraid of the dark, and after an unpleasant experience the previous year, is filled with dread at the thought of going to the party again. From the very beginning there is a sense of menace, which lingers throughout the story. At times Greene’s use of foreshadowing – constant references to death, darkness, birds and bats – is slightly heavy-handed. Had he used this device more sparingly, it would have been far more effective.

Nonetheless, one is instantly drawn into the narrative, which moves along at a cracking pace. The prose is fluid and extremely readable. Although Greene always tackles complex territory, he manages to do so in a compelling style. As a practicing Catholic, he often explores conflicting elements of faith – reliance upon God, feeling let down, questioning one’s faith, and believing that destiny is completely dependant on God’s will.

Francis’s fear, and the power of it, is like a separate entity. Towards the end of the story, the fear seems to transfer itself onto Peter, or possibly possesses him too. Greene examines the idea that fear can be a haunting presence within the human psyche, perhaps suggesting that it exists only when faith is absent.

There are parallels between Greene’s personal history and the experiences of Francis. In the story, Francis feels different and alone, and is bullied by other children at the party because of his fear of the dark. He is plagued by thoughts about death. Greene was also bullied during his childhood, and attempted suicide several times as a teenager. The writing certainly possesses a depth of understanding and sadness. Characters are finely drawn, with keen observational skills and empathy. The reader is captivated by Greene’s storytelling while being gently invited to reflect upon the ideas he is presenting. ‘The End of the Party’ leaves a resonance that is disturbing and eerie as one identifies with, and remembers, the intensity of childhood fears.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Lina Vale is a professional writing and editing student at RMIT. She writes non-fiction, poetry and short stories.

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Comments

  1. I hadn’t read Greene since high school but recently bought The Quiet American and was blown away by it. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the Byron lines he quotes at the start:
    ‘This is the patent age of new inventions
    For killing bodies, and for saving souls,
    All propagated with the best intentions.’

  2. I too recently read the Quite American. It is amzingly brilliant and better than the film (what a surprise!) – which is also very good. Now I want to read more Greene, so the short stories may not be a bad place to start.

  3. Agree entirely on The Quiet American. Also enjoyed the film adaptation. I am keen to read Shirley Hazzard’s piece on Greene. They were friends and she wrote a memoir
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/hazzard-greene.html
    I’m a fan of this generation of writers and it is great to see short story collections resurfacing. I’m currently reading Hemingway’s Men Without Women and being reminded of the strength to be found in the direct, active voice style.

  4. Heavens, a review of Graham Greene. Overland never fails to surprise. The novels that Greene called his ‘entertainments’ are terrific: Brighton Rock, The Third Man etc. Amazing how writers get forgotten. I often think we could just read fiction published before about 1970 and still have more than enough amazing stuff to read.

  5. One of my pleasures during a trip to Vietnam three years ago was being sold a photocopied version of The Quiet American. I love the rave in the middle of the book when the characters are holed up in the tower and I’ve gone back to read that part several times in the ensuing period. I’ll be looking out for these short stories for sure.

  6. Lovely review, thanks Lina – maybe I’ll have to dust off that copy of ‘The Third Man’ that’s been haunting my bookshelves for many a year. Love a good short story, too, so shall keep my eye out for this collection.

  7. ‘The Heart of the Matter’ is also an interesting novel. One that explores the complexity of a person making destructive decisions, and the difficulty of judging them as right or wrong. Definitely worth a read.

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