The Man Within My Head
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Ever since he first discovered Graham Greene's work, Pico Iyer has felt a haunting closeness with the English writer. In The Man Within My Head, Iyer follows Greene's trail from his first novel, The Man Within, to such later classics as The Quiet American, examining Greene's obsessions, his elusiveness, and his penchant for mystery. The deeper he plunges into this exploration, the more Iyer begins to wonder whether the man within his head might not be Greene but his own father, or perhaps some more shadowy aspect of himself.
Drawing upon experiences across the globe, from Cuba to Bhutan, and moving, as Greene would, from Sri Lanka in war to intimate moments of introspection, this is the most personal and revelatory book yet from one of our most astute observers of inner journeys and crossing cultures.
of two generations before. The haunting power of his novels, often, comes from the “hunted man” at their center, the fugitive whom we long to see to safety as he tries to flee his pursuers and find the stillness and comfort that are all we can expect of Heaven (and are equally far from our reach). The pathos, the smothered kindness of his novels comes from the fact that the more generously the man tries to act, the more remote his salvation seems to become. When I was a boy, a terrible chill
all, the sin of being real; they’re human and distractible and fallible. Sometimes we seem to create ourselves in the light of their mistakes. But the parents we construct in our minds—the ones we enlist for our purposes—are more like the people we want to be, or at least the ones whose affinities we gladly acknowledge. Someone says you look like your father, and you wince, or recoil; the great project of self-creation has clearly failed. Someone says that you sound like that eminent novelist,
the priest)—that it became the book that established Greene as a major writer on religion and remained the one novel even its contentious maker admitted to liking through most of his life. When Catholicism was on the run, he’d side even with the Catholics. When a priest was a fallen, sinning man much like the rest of us, Greene could summon sympathy even for a priest. All that was so hateful and bereft of light and beauty to the traveler, watching from the sidelines, becomes moving and deeply
aloofness” that the writer’s job demands and sensed that his soft heart would always get him in deeper trouble than his cool mind. He recoiled from a formal divorce from his wife because, as he said, no woman would ever take pity on a weak man. “Pity” itself he saw as a great affliction, a kind of weakness disguising itself as charity. Yet perhaps the single most important thing to be said about him was that he was an undeluded, open, antimoralistic adventurer (his work was denounced by the
corridors, we had to drop everything we were doing (homework, most likely) and hurtle up to the source of the cry. The last one there had to race across town to fetch an older boy a magazine, or deliver a message for him. Older boys were allowed to beat younger (as masters were not), and rumors gleefully recalled that, if bored, our seniors would summon a few juniors, ask them to spread out their hands on a table and, blindfolded, jab among the fingers with their compasses. Bad pieces of work