The Human Factor book cover by Penguin

An unusual spy novel

The Human Factor by Graham Greene

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is probably the most unusual spy novel I’ve ever read. There’s no glamour and little action. Instead, it depicts the workings of a slow, inefficient and frustratingly incompetent bureaucracy. There is a lot of tension because of the character development, and it certainly reveals the personal consequences, large and small, of doing espionage work.

But while The Human Factor kept me turning the pages, Graham Greene has covered similar territory more effectively before. I’m thinking of The Quiet American, The Third Man, and The Ministry of Fear, which were all excruciatingly tense, excellent works. In contrast, this is almost a novel of manners set in the British Secret Service.

Greene is a great writer, easily one of my favorite novelists, and I liked many of the characters he created here, but the book doesn’t really explore them in the way that his best work does. He took the approach more of skimming the surface to tell a story. This is a good read, no question, but it doesn’t come close to his best novels, like The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, or The Heart of the Matter. Still, I appreciated it and didn’t regret reading it for a second.



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