The events of the novel take place in an unnamed British Colony coastal town of West Africa in the time of the World War II. Henry Scobie is a police Deputy Commissioner and a long-time expatriate in the place. He is known for his professional honesty and probity, and his major promotion is very much anticipated - that is to take over the Commissioner himself once the latter retires. The story unfolds as Scobie is passed over the promotion thus letting down his wife Louise, who had seen it as a pass to the local expatriate community where she had never been truly accepted. Louise refuses to cope with husband’s failure and begs him to help her leave the place alone and settle in South Africa instead. Scobie steps over his principles to do so by borrowing money from a Syrian black marketeer Yusef. After Louise is gone Scobie is relieved to find himself on his own, until one day a shipwreck happens nearby. Survivors are hosted by the town and Scobie takes further unfortunate missteps that predetermine his fall.
We can be certain that Sierra Leone, where G. Greene himself served as an intelligence officer, is the true venue of the events, since the author’s introduction to the novel indirectly suggests so: “..The geographical background of the story is drawn from that part of West Africa of which I have had personal experience..”. War theme rather serves as a background, giving way to other current motives – diamond smuggling, for one. And, as many other Greene’s novels, “The Heart of the Matter” reveals profound religious debates, that are so well presented through Scobie’s monologues at the book’s finale.
The novel is narrated in the third person limited style, as we see the action through the eyes of Henry Scobie. However the author switches at times to Scobie’s opponent and biggest foe, Wilson, as narrator. This so-called dual third person narration gives us a more dimensional picture: Wilson’s tales attribute certain ugliness to Scobie’s character and add fresh emotions to the storyline.
I found the storytelling very complex: having various motives it is however closely focused on the inner wars of the main character. As we understand from the narrative, Scobie’s life had been shaken by his only daughter’s death several years prior to the events, and now we see Scobie’s controlling and self-centered wife Louise render his existence even more miserable – probably the fact that never occurs to Scobie himself. Instead he is taken hostage by his tremendous sense of pity and responsibility towards Louise, and even more tremendous sense of guilt. We see the lack of will and manliness, mixed with naiveté and honesty. Scobie seeks peace and understanding in the arms of a young mistress, but soon finds himself even more confused and disorientated. This leads to the major Scobie/author’s revelations and rethinking about human place, faith and loyalty in front of God’s eyes.
Book Reviewed by Lana Bykova
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