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The Heart of the Matter: 04/10/08
What is The Heart of the Matter? From looking through old book covers, I'm not sure the publishers know either except that it is a complex book open to wide interpretation. The Penguin edition emphasizes the oppressive weather that dominates the book: heat and rain. The cover of the new edition I bought highlights the pink gins that are drunk through out the novel (mostly by Scobie's mistress). The 1967 Bantam edition features Scobie and the two women in his life, thereby highlighting his brief affair.
To me, the book was about the isolation, boredom and stress of living in an outlying bit of empire during war time. When I was first reading it, I mistook the unnamed location for somewhere in the Bahamas because of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. This time, though, the location is actually supposed to evoke images of Sierra Leone, a place where Greene was stationed during WWII.
Although Greene's novel works with an ensemble cast, the protagonist is clearly Major Henry Scobie, a police inspector who is at the end of career and just never going to get the promotion his wife thinks he deserves. After the death of their daughter in England the marriage is basically over except that both are Catholic and unable and unwilling to divorce.
The story of their loveless marriage is woven together with scenes from Scobie's job. He's always on the look for smuggled wartime information, contraband, diamonds and so forth. He's constantly slogging through the heat and humidity and one step away from catching some horrible tropical disease. It's a hard and thankless job that Scobie does because he doesn't know what else to do with his life. He has no hobbies (not even reading poetry like his rival Wilson or killing cockroaches for sport like Harris).
I highly recommend The Heart of the Matter but I suggest that you take it slow. It needs time to read a little bit at a time and digested.