Saturday, 30 March 2013

On Reading: The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen by Graham Greene

Actually it’s only the girl for whom they are invisible. Eight of them, having a fish supper in a 1960s English restaurant, bowing and smiling and occasionally conversing in their incomprehensible tongue, and she hardly notices them. She has a good reason, of course. Perhaps two. She is dining with her look-alike fiancé, two miniatures hanging side by side. And she has just been given a £500 advance for her first novel. She imagines life in St Tropez, the boyfriend writing as well. He thinks the family’s wine trade offers more stability. Greene’s narrator/self is shocked to learn that she is one of his own profession. She deserved better of life, he thinks, and wants to warn her that a first novel called The Chelsea Set is no basis for her plans. Writing will get harder not easier and perhaps her publisher is a liar. With breathtaking economy of words and simplicity of setting, in just four pages Greene skilfully creates three disparate characters, gradually unpicking the lovers’ relationship and the writer’s disillusioned life. Conversation and  thoughts bounce between the bobbing, smiling invisible gentlemen like a ball in a squash court, only occasionally interrupted by a flurry of Japanese.

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