The Comedians (novel)
First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||A Burnt-Out Case|
|Followed by||Travels with My Aunt|
The Comedians is a novel by Graham Greene, first published in 1966. Set in Haiti under the rule of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tonton Macoute, The Comedians tells the story of a tired hotel owner, Brown, and his increasing fatalism as he watches Haiti descend into barbarism. The story begins as three men: Brown, Smith the innocent American, and Major H. O. Jones, the confidence man, meet on a ship bound for Haiti. Brown, Smith, and Jones, their names suggesting a curious facelessness, are the “comedians” of Greene’s title. Complications include Brown’s friendship with a rebel leader, politically charged hotel guests, the manipulations of a British arms dealer, and an affair with Martha Pineda, the wife of a South American ambassador. The setting for much of the novel, the Hotel Trianon, was inspired by the Hotel Oloffson in central Port-au-Prince.
The reader is introduced to the main characters on board the Medea, a Dutch ship serving Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic. The narrator is Mr. Brown, returning from an unsuccessful trip to the United States to sell his hotel, located in Port-au-Prince. Also present are Mr. Smith, (the Presidential Candidate), who ran on the vegetarian ticket in the American election of 1948; he and Mrs. Smith are on an optimistic journey to build a vegetarian center in Haiti. "Major" Jones is a likeable person of dubious history; he is full of stories about exploits that are not quite believable.
Upon arriving in Haiti, Brown returns to his hotel to find that the secretary of social welfare, who it seems was on the run from the government, has committed suicide in his pool. Brown has to dispose of the body to avoid being implicated. Meanwhile, Jones is arrested as soon as he sets foot on Haitian soil. When Brown is made aware of this, he convinces Mr. Smith to use his 'political weight' to help Jones get out of prison. With only the help of a pen and some paper, Jones is able to forge his way into the Haitian government.
When the body of Secretary Philipot is found, his family tries to hold a funeral, but the government's soldiers, the Tontons Macoute, ambush the procession and steal the body. The ex-secretary's nephew decides to join the rebel forces, and to do this he must first participate in a voodoo initiation ceremony. Brown reunites with his lover, Pineda, but finds that her child and husband still stand between them. And Mr. and Mrs. Smith continue to look into establishing a vegetarian centre in Haiti, before they finally realize that this country is in no way suited to such an enterprise. The Smiths pack up their bags and leave for the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Just as quickly as he infiltrated the government, Jones is soon an enemy of the state, and Brown has an adventure trying to smuggle Jones out of the country. Brown first attempts to sneak Jones onto the Medea, and when that fails Jones is given sanctuary in Pineda's embassy. But Brown doesn't like it when Jones becomes too close to the Lady Pineda, so he convinces Jones to join the rebels in the north. Many sacrifices are made towards this end, as Jones has been proclaiming himself a great military hero and the rebels really believe that he will liberate their country. However, it seems that this was all a bluff on Jones' part and he is soon killed in action. The rebellion fails. Brown, unable to return to his hotel in Haiti, finds a new job in Santo Domingo as a mortician.
- Mr. Brown, the main character of the story and the narrator. Owns a hotel in Haiti.
- Major Jones, arrives on the Medea with Mr. Brown and the Smiths.
- Mr. Smith, arrives on the Medea with Brown and Jones. Hopes to create a vegetarian center in Haiti.
- Mrs. Smith, Mr. Smith's wife. Arrives on the Medea with Brown and Jones. Hopes to create a vegetarian center in Haiti.
- Martha Pineda, Mr. Brown's lover and the wife of an ambassador.
In his Ways of Escape, Greene wrote that the book "touched him [Duvalier] on the raw." Duvalier attacked the book in the press, and also had his Ministry of Foreign Affairs make a brochure named "Graham Greene Demasquée" (Finally Exposed) whose distribution was cut when it failed to achieve the expected result. The book called Greene "A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon... unbalanced, sadistic, perverted... a perfect ignoramus... lying to his heart's content... the shame of proud and noble England... a spy... a drug addict... a torturer." ("The last epithet has always a little puzzled me," Greene confessed.)
In 1967, the novel was adapted into a feature film of the same name, The Comedians. Directed and produced by Peter Glensville, the film starred Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guinness, and Peter Ustinov.
- The Comedians at the Internet Movie Database
- Bernard Diederich: Seeds of Fiction: Graham Greene's Adventures in Haiti and Central America 1954-1983, 2012, Peter Owen, ISBN 978-0-7206-1488-6