Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.
Using the Cervantes novel as a framework, Greene’s twenty-first novel presents both a dialectic between Christianity and Communism, and a truth-seeking journey, the final goal of both quests being a definition of the meaning of love and of trust. The setting is Spain, shortly after Franco’s death. Father Quixote, parish priest of El Toboso and anathema to his bishop because of some unorthodox views, is made a monsignor on the recommendation of a travelling bishop to whom he offers hospitality. He decides to take a vacation and, accompanied by Sancho Zancas, the Communist ex-mayor of the town, sets off across Spain in his little car, Rocinante. Spain is in transition; although Franco is dead the guardia civil still prowl the countryside.
The book is full of artful touches. The fact that Father Quixote has as an ancestor a fictional character annoys the bishop: “A character in a novel by an overrated writer called Cervantes — a novel moreover with many disgusting passages which in the days of the Generalissimo would not even have passed the censor.” The structure of Greene’s book is as picaresque as its classic model: the chivalric code adhered to by the Don is echoed in the search for the truth of Christianity made by the priest, a search that takes the characters through numerous adventures. Though the windmills in Greene’s rendition are modern ones of twentieth century Europe, they nonetheless need attacking. The ancient books on chivalry much beloved by the Don are replaced by the works of Saint Francis de Sales and by the Gospels. Sancho’s reality is represented by the socioeconomic teachings of the Communist Manifesto. The running dialogues between Father Quixote and Sancho are evidence of Greene’s preoccupation with religion, a preoccupation found in much of his work. Walter Starkie, who translated the Signet edition of Don Quixote (1957), writes of Cervantes: “his noble nature and gentle sense of humorous tolerance taught him that life is an unending dialogue between a knight of the spirit who is ever striving to soar aloft, and a squire who clings to his master and strives with might and main to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.” It is a measure of Greene’s success that his characters exhibit the same tendencies as their prototypes. The book is Number 11 in the publisher’s “International Fiction List” series. Highly recommended.