The F-word is away on a work retreat with his future colleagues for a couple of days (no retreats at my office, boo hoo, just the occasional subsidized drunken binge and trips to Portugal to stay in five star hotels - I love Europe) and of course I jumped at the chance to be immediately and violently unfaithful to him with Graham Greene. I devoured The Quiet American without once leaving the chesterfield and it was soooooo good.
What makes me love books is the narration - seems obvious - they're narratives, for heaven's sake. But while I can enjoy a film for its aesthetic beauty, I can't enjoy a book solely on the basis of beautiful imagery. The example that springs to mind is Girl with a Pearl Earring - I couldn't stand the book, couldn't stand the narrative voice - I didn't believe it for a second and I got bored fuckless. But the film was beautiful, and reading the book I could see how the beauty of the film came from the descriptive passages therein - although the lingering shots of Scarlet Johannson and the fleeting shots of Cillian Murphy, whose uncanny looks evoke some very sweet and sour memories for me, probably helped too.
That's a long way of getting to the point that The Quiet American is some of the best narration I've ever read. Fowler, who tells the story while having the most invested in it, variously sees and fails to see the limits of his own understanding while managing to get us feeling like our understanding of him is greater than his understanding of himself - a feeling that pisses him off no end when Pyle, the Quiet American, expresses it. But Fowler's perspective is all we really understand, since it's clear his understanding of Pyle is unreliable, maybe even in his own eyes. So finally, the narrative leads us to a climax where two people seem to do what they think is right and are murderous in the process without being sure what they're doing exactly.
But Fowler has lots of delicious guilt about that, and that's neat too, in a narrative voice. There's just not enough guilt in the media these days and certainly very little convincing guilt. Redemption up the ying-yang, though - have you noticed? I think we live in the Golden Age of Redemption; it's hard to find and book or film that doesn't end up with some sort of redemption. If I have anything good to say about the way The Sopranos ended, it's that it gave redemption a miss - but then it'd been giving guilt a miss over seven seasons with less and less conviction, so it can fuck itself anyways.
So we have redemption coming out of our asses but no guilt, or if there is any guilt it's just a plot device leading up to the redemption. It's ridiculous. Always with the cathartic money shots of people bursting into tears and emerging above their problems in one fell swoop. Bah. Imagine life was like that and we were all a bunch of well-adjusted types walking around basking in our own guiltlessness. It would be another universe . . . But The Quiet American is convincingly lifelike, in that there's guilt, anger, conscience and uncertainty and all those things that make our universe often ugly, always our own, and occasionally very, very good reading.