Graham Greene’s biographer…..
“Graham Greene’s biographer”, my sub-title and, as I wrote that I wondered if, for once, especially in death, Sherry should be given some temporary reprieve from a title which has stuck with him since that first volume of his some two thousand page biographical trilogy on Greene’s life.
Sherry, who died this week at the age of ninety one gave up more than most for his subject matter. Greene travelled to London from his home in Antibes to meet Sherry and discuss the writing of a memoir which his publishers were keen to have written. Greene was less than keen on the idea, initially less than keen on Sherry and it is widely felt that Sherry was led a dance or two by the great author who had hoped the books would concentrate on Greene’s literary life rather than his quite epic record with women.
Despite the considerable interest by others to document Greene’s life ‘before it was too late’ Sherry won Greene’s approval through his critical work on Joseph Conrad which saw Sherry research the great man in both South East Asia and the Congo drawing obvious parallels to Greene’s own literary pathways. This willingness to travel for his subject matter carried on into the writing of Greene’s biography and to the detriment of Sherry’s health. Like Greene he contracted gangrene in Mexico, contracted tropical diabetes in Malaria and was shot at in Liberia. Only the leper colony in the Congo and the scene of Greene’s 1960 novel A Burn Out Case escaped Sherry’s presence on the insistence of a worried Greene who feared the author would himself succumb to leprosy.
Throughout the volumes Sherry’s collection of detail is impressive, it was years in the researching and writing and drew heavy criticism and spiteful jibes from Greene’s friends, lovers and admirers in the press. Greene’s relatives fought for right of approval before publication, his affairs were legendary as was his struggle with his Catholic faith. By the time of the publication of the third and final volume those who knew Greene accused Sherry of failing to truly get across the man behind the mask. Sherry was aware of his failings in some regards but few could argue as to the collation of facts and details which Sherry amassed through his obsession and with very little help from Greene and those who knew him.
In the end, Greene succeeded in doing to Sherry what he had spent a lifetime doing to friends, family, lovers and his adoring fans. He created a persona which was complex and difficult to crack, in reality the only time Greene ever truly bared his soul was in his writing and as Sherry himself admitted, to know the real Greene one must read the novels.
Norman Sherry 1925-2016
Categories: The Reading Room