PsychoGeography #59: A marriage made in Greeneland

Share
Related Topics

I went to a wedding at the weekend in Havana ... in Brighton. Let us just dwell on that phrase for a few moments: I went to a wedding at the weekend in Havana ... in Brighton.

I went to a wedding at the weekend in Havana ... in Brighton. Let us just dwell on that phrase for a few moments: I went to a wedding at the weekend in Havana ... in Brighton. Havana was very nice as it happens, two large sepia rooms, with galleries running around them, fans revolving lazily on the white-painted ceilings. The staff were bustling and efficient, wound tightly into their immaculate, ankle-length aprons. There was no sign either of the sleaze and corruption one associates with the Batista regime, or of the penury and paranoia that has dogged Fidel Castro's exercise in nation building. But then this was Havana ... in Brighton.

I think it was brave of the bride and groom to hold their wedding in Havana, because the bride comes from an Anglo-Chinese family and they must have fairly negative feelings about communism. As for the groom, well, he's a dyed-in-the-cashmere capitalist, a true getter, so the venue must have seemed more than a tad outré. Still, he betrayed no anxiety as he ushered the guests in. There were painted ladies on stilts, a brace of conjurers, the food was noisettes of lamb, rosti, rugula salad - not quite what you expect from Cuban cuisine, but then this was Havana ... in Brighton.

Later, as the Victoria train made a lengthy detour via Haywards Heath due to engineering works on the main line, I reflected on how Graham Greene might have reacted to the wedding. It's almost impossible to conceive of Greene visiting any kind of theme restaurant, even one as discreet as Havana. Perhaps this alone confirms that he wasn't quite the towering genius some once thought, and also explains why his books are beginning, ever so gently, to slide out of print. It seems to me incontrovertible that nothing that is human can be strange to those creators whose works will endure, not even an Irish pub in Maputo.

Had Havana been Brighton in the 1930s it would've allowed Greene to kill two fictional birds with one stone. He could've written a novel called Our Man in Havana Rocks ... in Brighton, the action of which would concern the sad machinations of a down-at-heel British spy running a theme restaurant who is threatened by a punk gangster. If you think this is preposterous, you need to consider the fact that Greene himself never even visited Brighton. During the composition of Brighton Rock he put up at the rather more genteel Bexhill-on-Sea and sent researchers along the coast to do his legwork for him.

I don't know why I've got it in for Greene at the moment - he never did anything to hurt me. Still, the revelation that far from being an urbane globetrotter he never got further than Sussex, while the vast bulk of his output was written in the vicinity of Clapham Common, is one I must share. It was not without accident that critics dubbed his late-colonial milieu, with its dipsomaniac expats, tormented priests and nymphomaniac natives "Greeneland", because it was first and foremost a country of the mind. The Human Factor, The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American - all of them were drummed up by a fantasist who knew no more of South America, Africa or South-east Asia than a schoolboy armed with a decent atlas. Travels With My Aunt should really have been entitled Hanging Out with my Aunt, while Greene's very first fiction, Stamboul Train, is a blatant lie, as any close reading of the text makes it perfectly clear that the train in question is travelling on the branch line from Ely to Peterborough.

Does it matter, I hear you ask, surely it's a very prosaic conception of fiction indeed which insists on such a factual basis? After all, even Kafka wrote a novel called Amerika without ever going there. Well yes and yet no. I do think a sense of topography is integral to our enjoyment of fiction, and that even if we haven't been to a place we can somehow sense whether the writer who describes it has. I remember being in Brazil (or do I?) 10 years ago, and the Brazilian literary community being much exercised by John Updike, who'd just published a novel called Brazil. "'E was only 'ere a week! One week!" expostulated my genial translator Hamilton dos Santos. What he would've made of Terry Gilliam's film of the same name I shudder to think, set as it was almost entirely inside the cooling tower of Chiswick Power Station.

No, when a writer's frauds become too flagrant there can only be one solution: send them to Botany Bay. And I'm not talking New South Wales here, but Botany Bay near Enfield. This little village was dubbed by a Victorian wag who found it inconceivably far from London, and the name stuck. Graham Greene would've been perfectly happy in exile there penning a great Australian novel.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home