Orient ExpressThe purser took the last landing-card in his hand and watched the passengers cross the grey wet quay, over a wilderness of rails and points, round the corners of abandoned trucks.

I loved Our Man in Havana and Travels With My Aunt and really liked The Quiet American, but Orient Express was disappointing. It’s an “entertainment” (Greene classified his books into novels and entertainments), but it wasn’t that entertaining. It certainly wasn’t as dryly humorous as his other works. It wasn’t humorous at all, in my opinion. As the Orient Express hurtles across Europe on its three-day journey from Ostend to Constantinople, the driven lives of several of its passengers become bound together in a fateful interlock. The menagerie of characters include Coral Musker, a beautiful chorus girl; Carleton Myatt, a rich Jewish businessman; Richard John, a mysterious and kind doctor returning to his native Belgrade; the spiteful journalist Mabel Warren; and Josef Grunlich, a cunning, murderous burglar. What happens to these strangers as they put on and take off their masks of identity and passion, all the while confessing, prevaricating, and reaching out to one another in the “veracious air” of the onrushing train, makes for one of Graham Greene’s most exciting and suspenseful stories. Originally published in 1933, Orient Express was Greene’s first major success. This Graham Greene Centennial Edition features a new introductory essay by Christopher Hitchens.”

The plot sounded interesting, but I just couldn’t get drawn in by this book. It was really overwritten, much more so than any of the other Graham Greene novels that I’ve read. Perhaps he just wrote better when he was actually writing for the money. Though I think both Our Man in Havana and Travels With My Aunt were both entertainments.

The characters just didn’t seem to come to life for me. The book is really short, and there just wasn’t enough time to fully develop them. If Greene had had less characters on this train, perhaps the book would have worked better. I kept getting them confused, and I really couldn’t picture them at all in my head, which is not a good sign. Most of them were people I wouldn’t normally associate with, but still, they felt flat and one-dimensional. Or maybe two-dimensional.

I had such high hopes for this one; I always hate it when I’m really anticipating something and I don’t like it. Though this one has an interesting sounding plot, this is a Graham Greene novel to skip. Of the ones I’ve read  so far Our Man in Havana was definitely my favorite, followed by Travels With My Aunt. Both were really, really funny in a British sort of way. This one wasn’t funny  at all. Now I know why this isn’t one of his more famous novels. Since it was only 197 pages, I finished it. Otherwise, I would probably have put it down.

However, Graham Greene wrote a lot of novels and entertainments, so I have a lot more to read. Next on my list: his complete stories. I’m sure they’re really good.

So basically, try Graham Greene, as I love most of his books that I’ve read, but skip Orient Express. It had an interesting premise, but fell flat.

But if you do want to read it…

Read Orient Express:

  • if you like Graham Greene
  • if you like British literature
  • if you like books set in on trains

197 pages, 2.5 stars.

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