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the guardian Sat 01 November 2008
"A life in letters has a crucial advantage over a conventional biography," says the introduction. "It is chiefly in the subject's own voice and in his words." Stretching from 1921 to 1991, this collection shows an author less tormented and aloof than his image suggests, the bulk of whose hundreds of letters a year were either genial notes to family and friends, offers of help to those in trouble, or pats on the back for fellow-writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Mervyn Peake and RK Narayan. Greene resembles a variety performer keeping countless plates spinning as he also discusses issues in politics, religion and literature, and switches between love letters (to his wife and mistresses), gossip, dealings with publishers and agents, and dispatches from abroad. His tone is mostly amiable or businesslike, but occasionally he pens a stinker: accusing Ralph Richardson of ruining one of his plays, and telling Peake "I wanted to wring your neck" when he receives a "lazy" draft of Titus Groan. His namesake provides admirably informative footnotes.