The Honorary Consul

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For the film adaptation, see The Honorary Consul (film).
The Honorary Consul
First edition
Author Graham Greene
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Spy novel
Published 1973
Publisher Bodley Head
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 335
ISBN 0-370-01486-3
OCLC 769086
LC Class PR6013.R44 H6
Preceded by Travels with My Aunt (1969)'
Followed by The Human Factor (1978)'

The Honorary Consul is a British thriller novel by Graham Greene, published in 1973. It was one of the author's own favourite works.[1] The title is a reference to the diplomatic position known as an honorary consul.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is set in the city of Corrientes, part of the Argentine Littoral, on the shore of the Paraná River in Argentina.

Eduardo Plarr is a young medical doctor of English descent. As a boy, he had left Paraguay with his mother, escaping from the political turmoil there to Buenos Aires, while his English father remained in Paraguay as a political rebel. Aside from a single hand-delivered letter, they never hear from the father again.

When Plarr moves to the quiet, subtropical backwater town of Argentine Littoral, he strikes up an acquaintance with the only two other English inhabitants—a bitter old English teacher, Humphries, and British Honorary Consul Charles Fortnum, a divorced, self-pitying alcoholic who misuses his position. Plarr's other principal acquaintance is Julio Saavedra, a forgotten but self-important Argentine writer of novels full of silent machismo.

Visiting a local brothel with Saavedra, Plarr is attracted to a girl, but she is taken by another man. A couple of years later, he is called to treat Fortnum's new wife, whom Plarr recognizes as the girl from the brothel, Clara. Although he has never been to England, Plarr regards himself as a cool, self-controlled Englishman, but nonetheless finds himself becoming obsessed by Clara, and seduces her by buying her some sunglasses. They begin an affair, although he tries to remain emotionally distant from her.

"Caring is the only dangerous thing," Plarr says in the novel. "`Love' was a claim which he wouldn't meet, a responsibility he would refuse to accept, a demand. So many times his mother had used the word when he was a child; it was like the threat of an armed robber. `Put up your hands or else ...' Something was always asked in return: obedience, an apology, a kiss which one had no desire to give."

Clara eventually becomes pregnant, and Fortnum, believing the child is his, starts drinking less.

Some of Plarr's friends from school turn up at his surgery, one of them is a failed priest named Rivas. They have news of Plarr's father, who is alive and in a jail in Paraguay. They hatch a plot, for which they need a doctor's assistance, to kidnap the US ambassador on his trip to Corrientes. They intend to demand the release of political prisoners in Paraguay, including Plarr's father, in return for the ambassador's release. But the band kidnaps the wrong man, Charley Fortnum, the Honorary Consul, whom they take to a squalid hut in a shanty town.

The rest of the novel charts Plarr's efforts to get Fortnum released, either as a result of diplomatic action from the UK, whose ambassador in Buenos Aires is a comedy figure, or as a result of his school friends giving up. But no-one listens to him. Saavedra and Humphries fail to help Plarr in his efforts. The Argentine military police suspect that Plarr is involved in the kidnapping, as they know about his affair with Clara, and think his behaviour has been suspicious. They tell him his father was shot dead in Paraguay while attempting escape.

Plarr goes to the hut, where Fortnum has been shot in the leg while attempting escape. Fortnum spends much of his time, as he faces up to his impending death, sentimentalizing about Clara and remembering the fearsome figure of his father. Then he discovers that Plarr is having an affair with Clara, and that the child is really Plarr's. Meanwhile, members of the motley band drift away, and the police close in and surround the hut, while the failed priest, Father Rivas, conducts a makeshift mass inside with the rain coming down and police waiting.

When the police deadline is about to expire, Plarr goes out to talk with them, but he along with the other kidnappers, is killed by police paratroopers. The authorities blame Plarr's death on the kidnappers. Plarr's mother, once a beauty and now bloated, along with some of his previous older mistresses, attend his funeral. Saavedra reads a homily. The UK embassy then relieves Fortnum of his consulship. In the last scene, Fortnum and Clara attempt a reconciliation. Fortnum will name the child Eduardo.


The book was made into a film, The Honorary Consul (also released as Beyond the Limit), directed by John Mackenzie in 1983, with Richard Gere as Plarr and Michael Caine as Fortnum.

The soundtrack theme was composed by Paul McCartney and performed by John Williams.


  1. ^ Allain, M: "Conversations With Graham Greene", page 136. Penguin Books, 1991