The Tenth Man

Description

157 pages
$14.95
ISBN 0-88619-078-9

Year

1985

Contributor

Reviewed by Nicholas Pashley

Nicholas Pashley was a bookseller and a freelance writer and editor in Toronto.

Review

The lesser works of major writers generally hold an element of fascination. One can think of numerous cases of books that would never have been published had they been written by you or me. Recent attempts by writers as diverse as Doris Lessing and Pierre Berton to publish books under pseudonyms have done little for the reputations of writers, publishers, or book reviewers.

It is easy to spot The Tenth Man as a minor work of Graham Greene, but at least it does not pretend to be otherwise. The short novel that makes up this book is a reasonably well thought out film treatment that Greene wrote while under contract to MGM in 1944. The film was never made, and Greene apparently forgot about the story until it was unearthed by a stranger in 1983. It is best read as a rough draft of a story, something that would have improved with reworking.

The story itself is fairly simple. In occupied France, a lawyer called Chavel is held hostage by the Germans. In retaliation for an act of resistance, three French prisoners must die; the prisoners themselves must decide which three. Lots are drawn, and Chavel is one of the unlucky trio. During the long hours before dawn he makes a deal with one of his co-prisoners: Chavel will live, but poor Janvier will die rich, the owner of Chavel’s family property.

Some years later, Chavel returns anonymously to his former home, now owned by Janvier’s family, to find that he is reviled by the new residents. Unaware of his identity, the family takes Chavel in as a sort of servant; at this point the plot begins to revolve around the sort of coincidence that even Dickens under a deadline would have rejected. While the plot falls well short of the ideal, Greene’s grasp of character and moral dilemma remains firm. One could drive a medium-sized truck through some of the logical gaps in Greene’s story, but The Tenth Man succeeds on the strength of the distinctively Graham Greene flair. We can see ourselves in the cowardly Chavel, which is what counts.

The Tenth Man is accompanied by two brief potential film treatments written by Greene in the same era. “Jim Braddon and the War Criminal” is the story of an American who, through a set of stunningly unlikely circumstances, finds himself on trial as a Nazi war criminal. Again the story is farfetched, although not without interest.

“Nobody To Blame” is an amusing early variation on Our Man in Havana, now set in eastern Europe. The film was not made at the time because it was not thought possible or politic to make a film that seemed to make fun of the Secret Service.

This is perhaps not the book to introduce someone to the works of Graham Greene. He has done better than this. But the enthusiast will find much that is worthwhile and provoking in The Tenth Man.

Citation

Greene, Graham, “The Tenth Man,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35841.