The Comedians, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY PAUL THEROUXThree men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt 'Papa Doc' and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American and Jones the confidence man - these are the 'comedians' of Graham Greene's title.

Hiding behind their actors' masks, they hesitate on the edge of life. And, to begin with, they are men afraid of love, afraid of pain, afraid of fear itself...


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The Comedians starts out at sea. A small handful of passengers are traveling to Haiti; notably Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Because of their common names there is an air of mystery to their characters. Their first names are never revealed. As Mr. Brown (telling the story) points out, they could be anyone. Although, as the reader will discover, they are not. they are comedians, pretenders. Mr. Smith is a United States Presidential candidate on the "Vegetarian platform" of 1948. He arrives in Port-au-Prince with his wife looking to start a vegetarian center. Mr. Jones is a shady character with a dubious past. He appears to be on the run from British authorities and full of tall tales. Nothing he says is believable. Mr. Brown, as narrator, is a man without a country. He owns a failing hotel and is having an affair with a South American Ambassador's wife. His existence is on the fringe of life. All three men are ruined souls, barely playing out their parts. The backdrop for The Comedians is the real-life tyrannical Papa Doc and the shadowy Tonton Macoute. Jones, Brown and Smith are vehicles to introduce the reader to the poverty, the voodoo, the political unrest, and the eventual yet unsuccessful uprising of the rebellion army.
Review by

Couleure locale or ambience in literature is often used by authors to create a pleasant back-drop to the story. The novels of Graham Greene are often characterised as foregrounding character, while the background is considered less important. However, The comedians uses the back-drop of the Haiti at the time of 'Papa Doc' Duvalier as a grim background that adds significantly to the grimness of the story.The expat-milieu is dotted with peculiar characters, although Greene has clearly chosen or created quite larger-than-life characters in Major Jones, Mr Brown and the Smiths. The story of these characters is not so complicated, although the telling of the story in this particular novel is not so clear.Anyone who has lived as an expat, will recognize the fluke-like quality of characters such as those described in the novel. The acronym F.I.L.T.H, meaning "Failed in London, try Hongkong" is supposedly well-known. However, The comedians would not be half as hilarious if the story developed against the back-drop of Hong Kong.In the introduction to this edition, by Paul Theroux, Graham Greene is described as having a knack for seeking out "troubled" countries. It would be typical for a Greene novel to develop on the postulate that a shady place would attract shady characters.The comedians is a somewhat laborious read.

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