I decided to read something by Graham Greene, in response to Simon Savidge's Greene for Gran month. But my reading has somehow got very unfocused at the moment -- I keep picking things up and putting them down again, and can't seem to find exactly what I want to read. Luckily I found on the bookshelf a large compendium volume of some of GG's novels, which I'd bought in a French market a year or so ago. But unluckily, I couldn't bring myself to decide which one I fancied. So I picked The Third Man, mainly because it was the shortest.
In actual fact, though, The Third Man is not a novel at all. Of course, as I'm sure everyone knows, it is a very famous film noir starring the wonderful Orson Welles, whose picture I couldn't resist putting on here. According to Wikipedia, 'Before writing the screenplay, Graham Greene worked out the atmosphere, characterization and mood of the story by writing a novella', which was not originally intended for publication. However, the plot of the novella differs in some respects from the film as it was made -- not that that needs to trouble us, so I'm not going to say any more about it.
The story is set in post-war Vienna, which might make an interesting comparison with The Exiles Return, which I reviewed about a month ago. But the Vienna portrayed here is very different from the rather quietly sad city of Elizabeth de Waal's novel. Here we have a city full of suspicion and fear, where crime is rife and nobody feels safe. As the novel begins, Holly Martin, a writer of pulp fiction, arrives in the city, having been invited by his old friend Harry Lime, who has offered him a job. But he is told at once that Lime is dead, a result of a street accident. Suspicious of the circumstances, he visits Lime's girlfriend Anna and later discovers from the porter at Lime's apartment building that the body was carried into the building by three men, not the two men claimed by the police. Who was the third man? Martin attempts to discover, but soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law, having disregarded the advice of the police to leave the city. He does, in the end, uncover the facts of the case, though in the process he learns that Lime was involved in extremely dubious activities. He also falls in love with Anna, but may or may not end up with her at the end -- the novel seems to suggest he does, but the film doesn't. Either way, the ending is superb, with a lot of racing around the sewers of Vienna and plenty of shooting.
This is obviously a cracking story, though one that's impossible for anyone who has seen the movie to read without visualising that brilliant piece of film-making, or hearing the Harry Lime Theme as a constant musical background. I did find the narrative method a little odd, though. The story here is narrated by Major Calloway, a British Army police officer stationed in Vienna, which seemed rather odd and confusing to me, especially as Calloway describes incidents that happened to Martin which he could not possibly have witnessed. This leads to a great deal of stuff like "Martin told me later that...", and I wondered why Greene had chosen to do it like that, especially as this doesn't happen in the film.
All that being said, though, it was a really enjoyable read, and perhaps would make a good introduction to anyone who wants to dip a toe into Greene without committing to a longer novel. As for me, I'm going to have a go at a longer one myself if I can decide which one and manage to concentrate long enough to finish it.