Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Name of Action

   "The Name of Action is Graham Greene's second novel, published in 1930. The book was badly received by critics and suffered poor sales. Greene later repudiated the book (along with his third novel Rumour at Nightfall) and it has remained out of print ever since."


   The above quote is from Wikipedia about a book I've just read (twice) and I now realise it doesn't actually say when Greene repudiated the book and it went out of print.  I've found images of three different covers for the book.


   Greene says in his autobiography Ways of Escape (1980) "some years after their publication I suppressed them", and this may be the source of the Wikipedia quote.  It looks to me that this Penguin is a bit more modern than 1930, possibly the 1960s or later. 

   I had begun to wonder if the book was out of copyright, through not being published in fifty years, and when I searched on the net, I found the book at, which gives at least the impression that apart from being hard to find, the book is out of copyright.

   I downloaded the epub ebook version to read it and was disappointed to find that it is almost unreadable.  The usual process with an old book is to scan each page with a scanner and then feed the images into an optical character recognition (OCR) program that converts the image into digital text by recognising in turn each letter and punctuation mark in the image.  Obviously, in the case of The Name of Action, the OCR software was dealing with images that were less than optimal, and had produced quite a lot of gobbledegook which the perpetrator had not bothered to edit.

   I went back to and found a pdf file of the book, which I thought I might use as a basis for a new epub version.  When I opened the pdf file, I found it consisted of photos of the pages, taken with an ordinary camera, and complete with a thumb or finger on many of the photos!!

   I would no more have success with this and an OCR application that anyone else.

   I was determined to read the book (to find out why Greene didn't like it!) but if I had to read it on the laptop, I might as well edit it into a readable file as I went.  So, I converted the gobbledegook version back to HTML and edited it in Word, using the pdf pictures as the basis for making corrections.

   Here's a page from the original epub which, although readable, has some words that can't easily be deduced.

   Here's the relevant photo from the pdf file, showing how corrections should be made.

   Here's my edited version of the same passage.  
   Corrections were reasonably straight forward for the most part, but there were many pages like the following:

And the corresponding pdf photo shows why:

   Not only is it out of focus, it's poorly exposed and the lens is doing strange things to the line ends at top and bottom.  The poor old OCR software wants to work its way along horizontal lines, and in lots of cases it was putting words into the line below or above according to the curves.

   This meant for some pages I had to type out whole paragraphs and occasionally a whole page.  Below is the completed version of the same page:

   I estimate it took twenty-five hours to read the book and produce the complete draft. I then converted the HTML to epub and opened the epub book in Sigil to proof read it, since lots of mistakes get through the first time.  This second read I used to look at Greene's writing.

   The chronology is that he wrote The Man Within in 1929 when he was 25 years old, and was happy with it.  He then wrote The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931) and later disowned them. In 1932 Stamboul Train was published and his reputation made.  He wrote five other novels in the 1930s which were successful, including Brighton Rock in 1938.  Could it be that he no longer needed two novels that, in retrospect, disappointed him?

   I can see that The Name of Action* is far from Greene's best, but what I like about it is that his skills, dare I say, were budding.
   Greene probably felt that his plot was trite, not cognisant enough of his times, but in 2013 the plot is irrelevant except for being useful in the construction of the novel, for hanging the various scenes and characters together. 

  This is the market square in Trier, Germany where the book is set.

   On the other hand, the brilliance of Greene's ability to read and portray the minds of his characters, is on show in embryonic form here.  When I was 26, I'd been around a bit, but I had no experience of divorce, adultery, homosexuality, a whole range of things.  Graham Greene's depiction of the relationship between Paul and Anne-Marie Demassener, and the latter's relationship with the hero, Oliver Chant, reveal the sensitivity and skill for which Greene was to become famous.

   In the same way, there are descriptions of the city square and its happenings, and such memorable scenes as Chant with the customs officers on board the (gun-running) barge, which trumpet Greene's developing ability to squeeze the essence out of exotica (to English readers), which he was to make a specialty.

   Some things annoyed me, for example, the condescension of Chant, the hero, to his German surroundings, and particularly to (the real hero, plot-wise) the Jew, Joseph Kapper.  Greene's use of names is interesting.  Oliver Chant is called Chant, or full name, never Oliver.  Anne-Marie Demassener is always called her full name.  Kapper is more often referred to as "the Jew" (and his eyes are deep, black, ebony, and umpteen other devious variations).

   I enjoyed the experience of reading a novel closely enough to be able to dot every "i", etc.  1930s conventions are evident.  For example, "forever" and noone" are rendered as "for ever" and "no one".  The use of ";" and ":" often seem interchangeable or indiscriminate.

   The upshot of all this is that I've read a novel which is probably only worth reading if you have an interest in Graham Greene and how the book fits into his history.  I've produced an epub file of the book which is possibly unique in the world (you can actually read it all) and may or may not be subject to someone's copyright (I promise I won't attempt to make any personal gain from it). 
   As to whether it was all worth it, I'm sure it's not possible to buy an ebook version of this book, but there are two versions of the 1930s hard copy for sale on eBay at the moment, one for $685 and the other in excess of $1,000.  Tell 'em they're dreamin'!

* the title comes from Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy.

15  July:
I now understand that the Penguin cover above is apparently a fictitious "mock-up", done by the person who photographed the pages, and the book probably is out of copyright. 

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