A Long Game of Scrabble: A Memoir of Graham Greene

Michael Meyer in The Paris Review:

GrahamI saw a good deal of Graham Greene in the late forties and fifties. Once he mentioned that he was writing a film script. He told me the plot and it sounded pretty boring. I wondered who would want to see it. It turned out to be The Third Man. Graham’s account of it ranks with Orwell’s of Animal Farm as the most inadequateprécis of a work by its author that I have heard or can imagine.

Graham was a great practical joker. Once he heard that Cyril Connolly was giving a party to which he felt he should have been invited, and telephoned Connolly in the middle of it saying in an assumed accent that he was their chimney sweep and would be coming first thing next morning, so would Mr. Connolly please have the dust covers over all the furniture? The impersonation proved successful, for Connolly, after vainly pleading that the sweep should postpone his visit, obeyed, which must have been a tedious chore in the small hours after the last guest had gone. Graham also invented a terrible game, usually played around midnight or later. Each of you opened the telephone directory at random, picked a name blindly and rang the number; the winner was whoever kept his or her victim talking the longest. Graham always won. He told me that he had discovered another Graham Greene, a retired solicitor in Golders Green. The first conversation between them went something as follows: “Are you Graham Greene?” “My name is Graham Greene, but—” “Are you the man who writes these filthy novels?” “No, I am a retired solicitor.” “I’m not surprised you’re ashamed to confess you’re the author of this muck.” “No, really, I assure you—” “If I’d written them at least I’d have the guts to admit it, etc.” Graham told me that he had made several such calls using different accents, and that in the end the unfortunate man removed his name and number from the directory He also kept other people’s visiting cards, which he would use for a variety of harmless purposes, such as sending them across restaurants to friends who had not spotted him, with cryptic and sometimes obscene invitations written on them. This was the bright side of his temperament. I glimpsed the other side only a few times during these years, but I remember asking Edward Sackville-West, an old friend of his, what he thought Graham would be writing in twenty years, and nodding in agreement as Eddie replied, “Oh, Graham will have committed suicide by then.” “The fifties were for me a period of great happiness and great torment,” Graham wrote in Ways of Escape. “Manic depression reached its height in that decade.”

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