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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Greene on Capri

Shirley Hazzard

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To purchase Greene on Capri

Title: Greene on Capri
Author: Shirley Hazzard
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2000
Length: 149 pages
Availability: Greene on Capri - US
Greene on Capri - UK
Greene on Capri - Canada
Begegnung auf Capri - Deutschland
  • A Memoir
  • Includes numerous black and white photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : decent if fairly unremarkable book of Graham Greene reminiscences

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 8/5/2000 Brenda Niall
Daily Telegraph C 22/1/2000 Michael Shelden
Evening Standard A 31/1/2000 David Sexton
Harper's Magazine A 1/2000 Michael Korda
London Rev. of Books . 30/3/2000 Thomas Jones
The LA Times A 6/2/2000 Michael Mewshaw
The NY Rev. of Books . 15/6/2000 David Lodge
The NY Times A 3/2/2000 C. Lehmann-Haupt
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/2/2000 Richard Eder
San Francisco Chronicle A 5/3/2000 Oscar C. Villalon
The Spectator A 29/1/2000 Anne Chisholm
The Sunday Times . 30/1/2000 Humphrey Carpenter
Time . 1/6/2000 Michael Fitzgerald
TLS . 5/5/2000 Caroline Moorehead
The Washington Post A 24/2/2000 Jonathan Yardley
World Lit. Today . Fall/2000 Robert M. Davis

Note that many of the reviews considered this book in conjunction with William Cash's The Third Woman -- which they all roundly and soundly condemned

  Note that in his review Michael Korda writes of Greene: "writing those five hundred words a day (never more, never less, ending often in the middle of a sentence)". Cf. Hazzard, who writes e.g.:"We met in the piazza, Graham having completed "my three hundred and fifty words" for the day."

  Note that Michael Shelden -- who penned one of the more dismissive reviews -- also wrote a critical biography of Greene (which Michael Korda, in his review of Hazzard's book, says "portrays Greene as the symbol of everything that's wrong with the modern world, from leftist thinking to immoral sexual behavior").

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, although most are very enthusiastic

  From the Reviews:
  • "Greene on Capri is a gracefully written memoir (.....) Hazzard gives a shrewd sense of what it was like to be Greene's friend. (...) At times Hazzard's book loses its central focus and becomes a memoir of Capri itself, its landscape and history." - Brenda Niall, The Age

  • "A candid account of Greene’s life on Capri in the 1950s, when he seemed like a manic, obsessed character who had escaped from the pages of a Patricia Highsmith thriller, would make fascinating reading. But the curious will not find much in Hazzard’s memoir, which is a long magazine piece masquerading as a book. It contains only 150 small pages, heavily larded with quotations from Greene and others, and stuffed with potted histories of Capri’s attractions. (...) Most of what Hazzard relates is inconsequential." - Michael Shelden, Daily Telegraph

  • "Greene on Capri, by Shirley Hazzard, is a beautifully written, subtle, economical sketch of the man. Hazzard met Greene when he was already in his sixties and she is at once incisive about his cruelty and generous about his charm." - David Sexton, Evening Standard

  • "Like a good novelist -- like Greene himself -- Hazzard has a story to tell, and she knows how to tell it by unpeeling the private Greene from the public figure. (...) (A) gentle, beautifully observant, and objective -- in the best sense of the word -- portrait of an extraordinary man." - Michael Korda, Harper's Magazine

  • "Greene on Capri is a pointillist masterpiece that manages to evoke a magical setting, remarkable people and vivid events, all in the space of 138 elegantly written pages." - Michael Mewshaw, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Shirley Hazzard’s portrait of him is affectionate but far from uncritical. She respected his literary achievement, she enjoyed his wit and wisdom, and appreciated his complete lack of the vanity, pretentiousness, and snobbery that very famous writers are sometimes prone to. But she doesn’t conceal the fact that he had some unamiable traits, which not infrequently strained the ties of friendship. (...) It is a slim, unpretentious volume, but there is not a word wasted in it, and it can be read a second time with pleasure equal to the first." - David Lodge, The New York Review of Books

  • "Yet her account of her friendship with Greene is fascinating and irresistible, and it is precisely Greene's complexity and remoteness that make it so. (...) Most appealing of all is the picture Greene on Capri paints of a literary life, not only Greene's but also the author's and her husband's. Some of the best moments in these pages are the accounts of routines that brought Ms. Hazzard together with Greene." - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

  • "There is, throughout, a modesty at work: she does not attempt to embrace or define him in the enveloping way that some of his biographers have done. She sees the pain Greene could produce, and records it. Her memoir is not a train of thought but a number of uncoupled wagons charged with what she has to offer, and never padded to the top." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Unlike the exhaustive, continuing biography of Greene by Norman Sherry, she has no interest in portraying the writer on a grand scale. Instead, she wants to show what he was like relaxing at his home, dining with friends, sharing literary gossip." - Oscar C. Villalon, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Shirley Hazzard is highly observant and alarmingly intelligent; she is also erudite, precise and morally scrupulous. Her short book is not only a joy to read for its lucid, thoughtful prose, but also a refreshing antidote to biographical overkill and presumption. As a picture of Greene, it is like an Ingres portrait drawing: small, but miraculously clear." - Anne Chisholm, The Spectator

  • "(A)n elegant, restrained little book which is pleasurable to read after Cash's exercise in muckraking." - Humphrey Carpenter, The Sunday Times

  • "(W)ith Greene on Capri (...) we get the squalls, eddies and thunderclaps of a tempestuous friendship. (...) What makes Greene on Capri a fine portrait rather than a caricature is the novelist's poise Hazzard brings to proceedings." - Michael Fitzgerald, Time

  • "Shirley Hazzard calls this enjoyable book a memoir, and it is precisely this clarity of memory and genuine appreciation of someone whose very unpredictability amused and entertained her, that gives Greene on Capri its strength and charm." - Caroline Moorehead, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Hazzard's portrait of Greene, by contrast with the earnest but elephantine biography by Norman Sherry, is brief and economical, yet there is far more in it of the inner man, and the sense it conveys of the outer man is more vivid as well. It is a model not merely of memoir but of the writer's craft." - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

  • "(A) curiously old-fashioned book, the obverse of current fashions in expose biography saturated in every available detail and sometimes unsound speculation, but it is not necessarily the worse for that. It is more like a nineteenth-century memoir. Even the language is sometimes a bit archaic." - Robert Murray Davis, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Among numerous residences, Graham Greene also had one in Capri. Shirley Hazzard had seen him there on occasional trips to the island in the 1950s. Doing the crossword in The Times in the Gran Caffè "on a December morning of the late 1960s" she overheard him trying (and failing) to recall the last line of a Browning poem. When she left the cafe she supplied him with the line.
       Greene already vaguely knew Hazzard's husband, Francis Steegmuller (who was Hazzard's senior by some 25 years -- but nearly the same age as Greene), and a friendship of sorts then developed. Greene on Capri recounts these encounters and get-togethers, as well as other odds and ends about Greene and his writings -- a short, personal sort of memoir about an acquaintance and his well-known work.
       Capri makes for an interesting background as well. Hazzard also sketches its history and writes of many of the historical and colourful people who have resided or visited there. She also chronicles the changes the island has undergone since Greene first came there.
       Hazzard meanders fairly easily about in Greene on Capri, offering a variety of anecdotes and observations. Greene the man is presented: difficult, generous, complicated. Various incidents are recounted, illuminating these various aspects of his character. They are interesting, but in their isolation don't convince as a full picture of the man. Certainly, he was all of these things -- Greene had a mean streak, could be very abrasive, displayed remarkable generosity (and remarkable stinginess), etc. Hazzard lets some of the episodes speak for themselves and flails at explanations regarding others: either way we don't get much sense of learning anything new about the man.
       Greene the writer is also considered, as Hazzard hazards some interpretation. And she offers some some less well-known literary titbits which are of some interest.
       It is a personal view of Greene and his work, and there is certainly material of interest here. Compared to Norman Sherry's voluminous biography it offers only a tiny bit of Greene's life, but Hazzard does convey a fair amount with these personal snaphshots, as it were.
       Hazzard's style is an easy, comfortable one -- though, given the lack of focus of the book, that is not entirely an advantage. It struck us ultimately as quite bland -- a nice little collection of memories one might put together after a loved-ones death, but which no one really reads. (That this volume is, in fact, more contentious is suggested by the exchange between Yvonne Cloeta (who is almost always at Greene's side during the Capri-encounters) and Hazzard found here (in The New York Review of Books)).
       A small addition to the Greene-literature -- and the literature about Capri -- it offers a personal view of the older Greene by a fairly casual acquaintance. There are a number of nice bits, and some interesting ones, and it reads smoothly enough. But on the whole -- a fairly small whole at that -- Greene on Capri is nothing remarkable.

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Greene on Capri:
  • Virago publicity page
  • Zsolnay Verlag publicity page
  • Letter from Yvonne Cloetta to The New York Review of Books, and Hazzard's response
Reviews: Graham Greene: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Author Shirley Hazzard was born in Australia in 1931. She has written several novels as well as non-fiction. She was married to Francis Steegmuller.

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