Notes from the 60s – my Mum’s take on Graham Greene

Four shillings
Printed in 1969

I’m reading Graham Greene’s The Heart Of The Matter at the moment. It’s not exactly inspiring anything towards my ethereal steampunk fantasy, but Greene’s one of my brother’s favourite writers, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

It’s the kind of thing that was probably on my Uni literature course that I neglected to read because I was too busy farting about.

I found it on my parents’ bookshelf a few weeks ago – a yellowing Penguin classic print from 1969 nestled among its peers, all bought by my Mum while she was at university.

The price on the back cover says United Kingdom 20p / 4 shillings. That was probably about 50 quid in today’s money.

The story’s about a middle-aged Englishman in West Africa during WWII, whose love for two women, and his attempts to keep them both happy, lead him to disaster.

It’s good, but what I’m enjoying most are the little notes scrawled in the margin by my 19-year-old mum-to-be. They’re few and far between, but I love coming accross them.

The first appears in the opening sentence, no less.

Wilson sat on the balcony of the Bedford Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork.

A dash links the underlined words to the note:

good indication of charac

I suppose it is: bald pink knees brings with it connotations of youth, innocence, frailty and, perhaps, sunburn. All these aspects can also be attributed to Wilson’s shy, lonely demeanour, a new arrival from England.

That’s an impressive level of analysis from my Mum there! Did she notice it on first reading? Or go back to the first sentence having gleaned Wilson’s character? I’ll ask, but I doubt she remembers.

Much later, Scobie is speaking to Father Rank, who is apparently in the throes of an existential quandary:

When I was a novice, I thought that people talked to their priests, and I thought God somehow gave the right words… God doesn’t give the right words, Scobie.

In the margin is etched:

priest with probs

Indeed he is.

Some might think scribbling in a book is an unforgivable desecration, but I felt like I was sharing something with the young girl I never met, a girl who became my Mum, and taught me everything I know.

Certainly more than I was taught at university, anyway.

What about you? Do you make notes, or spit when you see them in a second-hand purchase?

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3 thoughts on “Notes from the 60s – my Mum’s take on Graham Greene”

  1. See? Notes are awesome! I have my mum’s Franny and Zooey copy, straight from USSR. She was a student, studying English and many words had Russian translations above them. Very handy for me! My English vocabulary was pretty weak at the time I first read it.

    (Phew, it feels great when Twitter doesn’t tell me I’ve 1 character left)

    ‘priest with probs’ is life πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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