Review by Kirkus Book Review
Bizarre, minor, mini-Greene--an unsatisfying novella redeemed nonetheless by a master's storytelling expertise and by a dozen or more absolutely splendid coloring touches. The essential story: our narrator, middle-aged widower Alfred Jones, meets and loves and marries Anna-Luise, the beautiful daughter of Geneva's Dr. Fischer, a notorious millionaire who gives parties to humiliate and test the infinite greed of a circle of rich, toadying acquaintances; and eventually, after pregnant Anna-Luise has died in a skiing accident, Jones attends Dr. F.'s final greed party--a sort of Russian Roulette with bombs--and tries to ruin it with his own suicide but fails. . . while Dr. F. himself does self-destruct. As parable, the tale hardly works at all: cold, sadistic Dr. F. is frequently equated with God, who is ""greedy for our humiliation. . . he twists the endless screw""--but Greene's familiar pessimism doesn't quite translate into symbolic black comedy; and the cartoon-ish rich dupes here (who eat gross gruel or risk death-by-bomb in order to get expensive prizes) aren't persuasive on metaphorical or any other terms. But trust Greene the storyteller: he uses human, just-slightly-surreal colors to shade his parable toward reality, and they are perfectly balanced, invariably poignant: Jones lost a hand in the London blitz and works as a translator at a Swiss chocolate factory; Dr. Fischer made his fortune by inventing Dentophil Bouquet toothpaste; Dr. F. tortures one of his toadies, horribly bent-over Monsieur Kips, by causing a marvelous children's-book series to be written about him, deformity and all; and most of Dr. F.'s lifetime rage stems from the fact that his dead wife surreptitiously, platonically, listened to Mozart with a humble clerk. Resonant details like these crop up on every other page, projecting Greene's smiling sadness in a way that the central premise never does. And the austerely understated love between Jones and Anna-Luise somehow lingers in the mind longer than the vividly concocted humiliation parties. A few readers may be happy to seize on Greene's cynical and macabre leanings here, happy to construct webs of theme (Catholic and otherwise) around the Dr. F. deity; but most will merely tolerate all that while savoring the by-the-way Greene pleasures that are all the more apparent. and impressive in such a tiny, relaxed book. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.