Pity is a terrible thing. People talk about the passion of love. Pity is the worst passion of all: we don’t outlive it like sex.
Arthur Rowe is a murderer, having spent time in psychiatric care for the mercy killing of his wife, and newly released into wartime London he enters into charity auction that, by mistake, he wins. The organizers of the auction come looking for his prize, a cake, but a bomb destroys the house and the cake. Rowe hires a private detective and begins chasing shadows of an inchoate Ministry of Fear intending to reveal the secrets of public figures and destabilize the British government. However, his search is temporarily derailed when an assassination attempt on Rowe and Anna, the girl who he has fallen for, leaves him with amnesia and placed in a sanatorium run by Nazis. Chaos ensues in his attempt to escape and thwart the members of the ministry.
Like Greene’s other “entertainment” I have read, Stamboul Train, Ministry of Fear is a nonstop riot of happenstance and intrigue, but the premise doesn’t work quite as well when the plot mucks about in a general location as opposed to careening down a track. Published in 1943, the novel does try to capture the paranoia and constant anxiety during the blitz, but the larger themes concerning identity, mental anxiety, and what it takes to have a stable society never really carry through. Ultimately the plot is barely coherent and while there are some good observations and scenes, the novel as a whole did not work for me.
I just finished reading Roberto Arlt’s The Seven Madmen a feverish, delirious novel of plots and delusions in 1920s Argentina. I haven’t picked out what I am going to read next, but am leaning toward either Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick or Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.