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Doctor Fischer of Geneva Or, the Bomb Party Books

1 rating: 5.0
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1 review about Doctor Fischer of Geneva Or, the Bomb Party...

Sweet, comic, tragic, and tragically overlooked

  • Oct 18, 1999
  • by
Pros: Literature at its best; brilliant writing and story-telling

Cons: Seems too short -- a few loose ends and unanswered questions remain

Graham Greene himself once admitted that some of his novels were serious works of literature (hardly a confession, I suppose), and that some were "entertainments." I've never been able to figure out which one "Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party" fits into, even though it's one of my favourite books: it's brilliantly written, but it's also a great story.

Part of the joy of "Doctor Fischer" is just its being a fine example of what a book should be: well-written and with a good yarn to boot. The dialogue is realistic, the settings not theatrically overblown but easy to visualize nonetheless (even though I've yet to go near Geneva), the characters -- to use the hack reviewer's term -- "human." And the story itself isn't easy to review here, because heaven forbid I give it away. Nowadays it's easy to expect everything to be formulaic, but in the relatively contemporary (1980) "Doctor Fischer" everything that isn't supposed to happen, happens, and vice versa.

There are all sorts of inquiries going on throughout the novel: into the rich, the greedy and grasping, the poor, the in-love. None of these are heavy-handed or (hack term alert) "starkly revealing" exposes about humanity, but they're still there, content to sit in the background instead of -- as is the case with a great deal of literary fiction -- push themselves to the front in a desperate bid to be noticed. "Doctor Fischer" _is_ literary, but it's not on any sort of mission to prove itself.

While it has its moments of sadness -- loss is also a theme -- it is one of those all-absorbing novels that would make a good gift for yourself when you're about to embark on a long and tedious flight, or for a friend in the hospital or similar. Back to the literature vs "entertainments" idea: I still can't quite reconcile this as capital-l Literature or as a merely entertaining novel -- a very great relief.


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