Graham Greene s collection of 12 stories, published in 1967, has the seductive title May We Borrow Your Husband And Other Comedies of the Sexual Life The stories skillfully combine comedy, tragedy, and wry observation Although most of these Graham s stories are character driven, he does offer readers detailed and telling descriptions of the locales Many of the stories take place on or near the Mediterranean The title story, which is about sexual machinations of a gay couple trying to seduce a newly married but unhappy man, is set in Antibes, a resort town in southern France Graham has his first person narrator, an English writer, set the scene He is staying at a cheap hotel next to the seawall and the Mediterranean as the summer season is ending Antibes and the hotel face east toward the sea The cold weather had come early and Antibes catches only the morning sun good enough for breakfast on the terrace, but it was safer to lunch indoors or the shadow might overtake the coffee To this day 2017 , one can find many of the local sites mentioned in this short story on a detailed map or aerial view online Another of the dozen short stories was especially good, I think Cheap in August, an expert study in loneliness and kindness Cheap in August is about a 39 year old woman, born in England but living in New England, who spends a few weeks in Jamaica when rates are cheapest August Her professor husband is in Europe giving lectures They had been married ten years and they had only been separated three times, the narrator says She wanted an adventure, a holiday affair, but was disappointed The trouble was that, after three weeks of calypsos in the humid evenings, the rum punches for which she could no longer disguise from herself a repugnance , the warm Martinis, the interminable red snappers, and tomatoes with everything, there had been no affair, not even the hint of one She had discovered with disappointment the essential morality of a holiday resort in the cheap season there were no opportunities for infidelity, only for writing postcards Greene again provides readers compelling details Outside the closed windows of the hotel annexe the boxes of the air conditioners made a continuous rumble in the starred and palmy night like overfed hotel guests Her room was full of dried air which bore no resemblance to fresh air than the dried figs to the newly picked fruit She meets a man, with the laughable name of Henry Hickslaughter, whom she calls the old fat man and initially compares to an old boot an angler might mistakenly catch He is in his 70s, and she discovers he is lonelier than she is They meet in the hotel restaurant and later in his hotel room, a few doors away from hers He had everything prepared a bottle of Old Walker, a bucket of ice, two bottles of soda Like books, drinks can make a room inhabited She saw him as a man fighting in his own fashion against the sense of solitude After awkward conversations and unexpected revelations, they strike up an unlikely friendship, and I won t give away the ending except to say she does after all find an adventure, and an enlightening one, learning about the United States and life in general from this unusual man from St Louis Not all the stories are winners, but the ones that are, are good indeed, with their humor and keen observations of people and their romantic relationships plus the places they inhabit, however temporarily. One call tell a great writer from the short stories Graham Greene is a great writer and this is a very good collection of stories about human relations In the opener, Greene introduces us to a very devious fairy couple interior designers who seduce a newly wed man from his wife In the funniest story we can have a glimpse at the very strange goings on among the burgers in a provincial German town Overall these stories remind me of Roald Dahl s My Uncle Oswald However, Greene is much serious than Dahl and the mood of the book is autumnal The last tale of a fleeting moment between two strangers in Paris is the key story in this book of bittersweet stories about the realization of life s disappointments by an Englishman abroad. Affairs, Obsessions, Grand Passions And Tiny Ardours Are Illuminated In This Collection Of Wryly Humorous Tales Of Love Whether Depicting The Innocence And Corruption Of A Honeymoon Couple Or The Frustration Of Missed Sexual Opportunities, The Stories Expose A Range Of Human Frailties Graham Greene gets a bad rap among those who haven t actually read many of his books, as he tends to be viewed as an author of thrillers the Robert Ludlum of his day, perhaps But every time I read one of his books, I re realize how unfair this is Sure, he can write a good thriller, but he was also an amazing literary author May We Borrow Your Husband Other Comedies of the Sexual Life is a great compilation of short stories about relationships, mostly gone horribly, horribly wrong Considering the stories were originally copyrighted from the mid 1950s through the mid 1960s, some like the title story seem very risque in their thinly veiled depictions of sex, while others, like Two Gentle People, are sweet and melancholy tales that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a passing crush Others, like Mortmain, are wickedly funny, yet still tragic Overall, these stories are fairly grim, but well worth a read. I feel like this represents Greene cutting loose and having some fun, with most of the stories being essentially slightly long winded jokes This being Greene though, a lot of the stories are still suffused with a pervading sense of melancholy most notably in the title story, as well as Cheap in August and Two Gentle People. This book is one of my favorites because it contains the most beautiful love story I ever read Two Gentle People Has many other great stories as well. It sounds na ve, but I think Graham Greene really was never as good with the comedic as he was with the bitter and bizarre The stories in this collection are okay, but in a lot of them o was confused by what tone he was going for is Dr Crombie meant as a comic elaboration on the cliche masturbation causes insert disease of choice , or a glance back at the past when lung cancer was only on the periphery of medical paranoia, or some simple coming of age set against a portrait of a fallen man How much did the shock value of gay and lesbian relationships predatory ones at that play into the decision to write May We Borrow Your Husband and Chagrin Are Awful When You Think Of It , A Shocking Accident Beauty, and The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen completely set up for their own single, somewhat feeble punchlines I get that he wrote the majority of these in a single mood of sad hilarity, as he writes in the introduction to Collected Stories, and it s not as if the possible directions that one can sense in any of these stories are bad ideas, but in many cases their weakness is that Greene doesn t fully develop any single of of those directions Also, just another little thing that bothered me is that Greene s characterization of Americans and the U.S Really do not ring true, and though they re small it feels awkward to read an English man s reflections on the American character The most baffling is probably in Cheap In August, a story I otherwise like, where Mary Watson complains about American food having tomatoes in every dish, a phenomenon I have neither experienced nor heard of and makes me think he just chose an indigenous American plant for his purpose.There are, however, a few good stories that seem confident in what they are One is The Root of All Evil, a winding tale of pure absurdity, apparently pulled wholesale from a dream The ridiculous succession of events along with the frame story give it an entertaining folk tale feel, even though it s never laugh out loud funny Cheap In August is really prototypical Greene, a moving and often uncomfortable story about a woman looking for an affair in Jamaica in the off season The final story, Two Gentle People, also deals with chance meetings, and the cowardice and regret that comes with old age, but in a different way nothing physical or scandalous, just tenderness between two people that never will be realized And Mortmain is a somewhat sensational, disturbing story about a man, newly married to a young bride, who just can t escape the imagine presence of his previous rebuked mistress.Otherwise, this collection seems trivial in comparison with 21 Stories and Greene s great novels I have yet one of his short story collections to read, but this hasn t dampened my hopes for that because I do believe this one s weakness is its reliance on the titular theme of comedies of the sexual life which makes it include pieces that fit the bill content wise but wouldn t stand up in a regular collection. This story collection, published in 1967, when Graham Greene was in his early sixties, is probably his most consistent 21 STORIES is quite stunning in its range, A SENSE OF REALITY is a bit too steeped in fantasy to highlight Greene s insight into human nature, but MAY WE BORROW YOUR HUSBAND subtitled Other Comedies Of The Sexual Life adheres to a theme Greene had become, in late middle age, to be quite comfortable with.This is one book in which Greene downplays almost to the point of eliminating his penchant for cloak and dagger Thirty years earlier, when he was already an established author, he d consciously put his comedic tendency aside It pops up in the forties and begins to glide comfortably in the late 1950s, but in the mid sixties, Greene fell into stride with the times, allowing comedy and, in particular, sexually knowing comedy, to soar His most overtly comic novel, TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, followed this collection in 1969 It s a commonplace to say that Britain went Technicolor in 1963 or so, after all the years of Austerity I must quote Philip Larkin s lines Sexual intercourse beganIn nineteen sixty three which was rather late for me Between the end of the Chatterley ban And the Beatles first LP.The Swinging Sixties gave us a Graham Greene who would have fit into a Pink Panther movie The characters in these stories tend to move from hotel to hotel, sharing drinks on patios overlooking grand staircases by the sea Having read all his novels and two of his other story collections with one to go, the one published just before he died, THE LAST WORD I can also say that MAY WE BORROW YOUR HUSBAND is essentially the only book he put out dealing in any detail with the reality of homosexuality Lesbianism is discussed in a coded way in his early 1930s novel STAMBOUL TRAIN, and, in 1978, Greene allows a paragraph quite literally about a Soviet spy whose paymasters provide with male companionship, but nowhere else in his fiction I have not read his criticism or memoirs yet does he broach the subject This is most unusual in a mid twentieth century author I do not mean that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer or, say, Updike, dealt sympathetically with gay characters or themes, but they made a fair amount of passing references to homosexuality Greene, I think deliberately avoided it, but not for reasons of prudishness or false machismo I believe that he had affection for oppressed groups Since, until about the mid sixties, almost all mainstream writers professed disapproval of homosexuality, Greene s way around the issue was not to mention it at all I don t even find sublimated gay themes in his books with, again, the exception of STAMBOUL TRAIN , and when finally gays and lesbians are featured prominently in Greene s fiction, it is in a collection with a title story dealing with the tension between straights and gays In the five or six years before the Stonewall riots, movies, books and plays were suddenly treating gays and lesbians as if they were three dimensional people This had not been the case in middlebrow works until then Proust is highbrow and therefore impervious to popular outrage I also think that Greene was waiting until his literary skill caught up to his talent for observation before writing these stories These stories were all products of the 1960s it is not a collection of disparate pieces It s pretty clear to me Greene was straight and by all accounts, including his own, highly sexed but even when he is showing bad people doing bad things and the characters happen to be gay, his is not a voice of condemnation May We Borrow Your Husband is one of the most realistic stories I ve ever read, evocative though it is of its lush surroundings Again, Britain had gone Technicolor These stories are highly visual and almost resemble gaudy postcards I need to point out that Greene IS the British element here Most of the stories are set in vacation spots far away from the UK Greene was also dodging taxes, of course, but almost any successful writers, moviemakers or musicians from Britain at that time moved away He was not an exception in this.Greene converted to Catholicism as a young man and one has to bear in mind that the biblical view of homosexuality was well known to him So if he does not seem to condone male homosexuality, it is that he believes in holding back from temptation and not that he does not understand the temptation But I am not prepared to say he disapproves of homosexuality He is nuanced May We Borrow Your Husband is pretty dispassionate Its narrator is rather disapproving, but Greene shows the narrator playing his part in the comedy In another story Greene is quite sympathetic to a lesbian couple This is a sympathy he hadn t shown in STAMBOUL TRAIN, that much earlier work Greene s great ability with descriptions of landscape is on display here His world is seen clearly than almost any other writer s It is hard to write about walls and lawns and the surf without getting boring Greene has never bored me when he describes landscape Almost all other writers do. Really 2 and a half stars Although most of the stories were well written, many had such nasty characters that I really did not enjoy reading them The only story I truly liked was Cheap in August. Damn Goodreads bugged and now I have to re write my review I don t really feel like it, and besides, the inspiration s gone Anyway, below is the gist of what the original review said A good collection of stories, a quick read, and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.Highlights include read my favourites of the bunch are The title story, May We Borrow Your Husbandwhich is written very much the way W Somerset Maugham wrote his short stories I had to keep reminding myself that it was in fact a Graham Greene story A Shocking Accident Doctor Crombie The Root Of All EvilThis collection of stories is included in Penguin Classics edition of Graham Greene s Complete Short Stories.
- 144 pages
- May We Borrow Your Husband & Other Comedies of the Sexual Life
- Graham Greene
- 01 April 2019 Graham Greene