'The Quiet American' is dark, thoughtful, meticulously crafted, and full of suspense.
Thomas Fowler is a British war correspondent who has been in Vietnam for two years. Not being French or Vietnamese, he sees himself as disinterested and apart from the conflict. The novel begins with him waiting for Alden Pyle, an American aid worker who he arranged to meet. While waiting his former lover, Phuong, now with Pyle, arrives and has been waiting for Pyle as well.
With that opening Greene reveals a love triangle and much of the novel concerns itself with how it came to be and in explaining the complicated relationship between Fowler and Pyle. This novel isn't just about the love of a woman - or is it?
Fowler is a weary man, growing older and in retreat from the world and his wife back in Britain. He represses feeling of guilt and sadness and wishes to simply go through the motions his work covering a misguided and interminable war and let Vietnam do what Vietnam will do. Pyle, on the other hand, is vigorous and idealistic. He has ideas about the war and underlying motives for being involved. Fowler and Pyle would have had little to say to one another if they both didn't happen to want the same thing - Phuong.
Phuong has little to say on her own behalf. She's content with Fowler, but leaves without regret at the urging of her family when offered greater security from Pyle. She may represent Vietnam itself, or not. Fowler debates becoming involved with the conflict as he begins to understand what Pyle's real purpose in the country. How much is his decision affected by their relationship? The book works for me without the political meaning and the critical hindsight applied to the book in light of what happened in that country in the decades following 'The Quiet American's publication.
I will be reading more Greene.