Review of Graham Greene’s ‘May We Borrow Your Husband?’…..
It is hard to read Graham Greene’s May We Borrow Your Husband? and not think of him as the narrator in the story. Essentially a story told by a middle aged novelist staying in Antibes whilst writing a biography it is difficult to get closer to the man himself if he had tried. Greene was, by then, in his mid fifties, would move permanently to Antibes and had written a biography on the same subject as his character!
When Greene moved to Antibes he loved to people watch and this first story and the title of the book is a lesson in such a vocation. The writer observes a young couple on honeymoon, Poopy and Peter who seem at odds with one another, she always first to the breakfast table alone. Also observing them is a gay couple who sense all is not as it should be with the groom and set about luring him away from his young wife with the narrator complicit in their plans.
The writer becomes friendly with Poopy whilst her husband enjoys the company of the gay couple, she confides in him that her husband is impotent for which she blames herself. The author has a dilemma; he has fallen for her but cannot bring himself to tell her that her looks are not the issue, but that her husband is clearly a homosexual. Poopy believes in her husband and the ‘friendship’ he has struck up with the younger of the two men, much to the anger of his older partner. She delights in telling the narrator how he plans to stay with her and her husband and what fun it will be for her husband. The narrator can see the heartache ahead for her but can do nothing about it and resigns himself to the inevitable, age is on her side, not his and his part in the affair comes to its natural conclusion.
This is one of Greene’s better short stories, in what is for me, his best collection of them. The title story was turned into a forgettable television movie starring Dirk Bogarde in 1986 but warrants better treatment. There is more to be made of the narrator and the human condition than a short story allows and for which Greene was so accomplished at describing but we are given enough to offer, like Greene, a sense of reflection and for some, introspection. Greene was clearly in a different emotional place to where he laboured during his earlier works, the stories within this collection are varied, some comedic, some sad, some with a real sense of refrain:
“What are you thinking?” Patience asked. “Are you still in the Rue de Douai?” ‘I was only thinking that things might have been different’, he said. It was the biggest protest he had ever allowed himself to make against the condition of life. Taken from Two Gentle People this is a charming short story, it feeds on the lifelong conundrum of ‘what if?’ and most especially in relationships, the notion that a fleeting meeting could have resulted in a finding the perfect love. With age that particular scepticism grows but Greene captures the feeling quite beautifully and the ending is all the more poignant for its subtlety.
Graham Greene’s bibliography including reviews can be found here