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‘Cruelty is like a searchlight. It sweeps from one spot to another’
Three men with ‘interchangeable’ names meet aboard a Haitian-bound cruise ship – Smith, the naive American; ‘Major’ Jones, the confidence man; and Brown, the directionless hotelier. Graham Greene’s darkly comic thriller – set among the bougainvillaea, bordellos and crumbling hotels of 1960s Haiti – begins like a bad joke. Yet as their ship approaches the island’s poverty-stricken shoreline, these three ‘comedians’ are thrust into a world that is all too real; a world of Voodoo, half-truths and insurgencies, and the dreaded Tonton Macoute, the ruthless paramilitary wielded by the infamous dictator, François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier.
Greene had visited Haiti a number of times prior to the publication of The Comedians in 1966, and painfully witnessed the deterioration of a fashionable bohemian enclave into a fear-riddled personal fiefdom; a regime that would ultimately cost the lives of an estimated 30,000 Haitians. A journalist at heart, Greene was emboldened to expose this tragedy to a largely disinterested press. However, as critic Francis Wheen notes in his introduction, ‘Greene sensed that the most wounding assault on a vain dictator was not so much howls of rage as gales of mocking laughter.’ The resulting work was the blackest of comedies, at once confronting the chaos of Papa Doc’s bizarre society, and, with effortless skill, propelling the reader on a tale of political intrigue, deception and self discovery.
To illustrate this edition, we chose Sara Ogilvie. Mirroring the absurdity of the environment, her nine black and white images expertly juxtapose the sublime with the ridiculous, from the brutal suicide of a government minister to a cross-dressing escape-plan. A Tonton Macoute, in trademark dark glasses, grins menacingly from her cover design.
Henry Graham Greene was born in 1904 into a influential Hertfordshire family, his mother the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. After leaving Balliol College, Oxford, where he published his first book of poetry, Greene began a newspaper career as a sub-editor on The Times, leaving to write full-time after his first novel, The Man Within, was published in 1929. His first major success was Stamboul Train (1932), the first of his novels to be adapted for film. During the Second World War, he worked for MI6 in Sierra Leone, where he set his novel The Heart of the Matter, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Greene wrote over 25 novels, including Brighton Rock (1938), The End of the Affair (1951), Our Man in Havana (1958) and The Comedians (1966). In 1986, he was awarded Britain's Order of Merit. He died in 1991.
Francis Wheen is a journalist, writer and broadcaster. He won the Deutscher Memorial Prize in 1999 for his biography of Karl Marx, and his collected journalism, Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies, won the Orwell Prize in 2003. Recent works include Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography (2006) and Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (2009). He often broadcasts on BBC Radio 4, is a regular panelist on Have I Got News For You and The News Quiz, and is deputy editor of Private Eye.
Sara Ogilvie was born in Edinburgh and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. Best known for her children’s illustration, her books in collaboration with author Anna Kemp have been shortlisted for the Booktrust Early Years Award, The Waterstones Children’s Prize and The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. In 2011 she was awarded a Booktrust Best New Illustrator Award. She has previously illustrated three books for The Folio Society: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (2010), The Midnight Folk (2011) and The Box of Delights (2012).
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