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Issue 34 - Keeping up appearances

Whisky Magazine Issue 34
October 2003


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Keeping up appearances

Whisky is a central part of the main character in Graham Greene's The Human Factor says Jefferson Chase

Think Graham Greene and whisky, and the title that automatically pops to mind is The Power and the Glory. But The Human Factor, Greene's 1978 tale of an interracial couple caught between the fronts in the Cold War, equals that work in both the quality of the writing and the obsession with booze.

Greene's favourite tipple was J&B, and he also made it the drink of choice for The Human Factor's protagonist, Maurice Castle. Castle's rationale, however, isn't taste but appearance:

He always bought J&B because of its colour — a large whisky and soda looked no stronger than a weak one from another brand.

Like many of Greene's protagonists, Castle is in the intelligence and espionage business, a world where private vices are not allowed.

The same applies to private virtues, in Castle's case, his love for his wife Sarah and stepson Sam, whom he as a British agent spirited away from apartheid South Africa.

In a bizarre profession, writes Greene, anything which belongs to an everyday routine gains great value.

Castle commutes daily from a modest London suburban home, always takes the same circuitous route home from the train station and relishes his after work drink:

[Sarah] had carefully measured out a quadruple whisky by English pub standards, and now she brought it to him and closed the glass in his hand, as though it were a message no one else must read. Indeed, the degree of his drinking was known only to them: he usually drank nothing stronger than beer when he was with...

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