The first book I have completed for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge is Orient Express by Graham Green which was published in 1933. This title fits the category “A Classic Travel or Journey Narrative, Fiction or Non-Fiction”.
Despite its title, this book is not a mystery a la Agatha Christie. Nor is it not a sexy spy thriller a la Ian Fleming, which the above cover of the Batam paperback that I read seems to suggest.
Instead, the novel is really quintessential Greene, or maybe prototypical Greene based on the other novels of his that I have read. In my experience, Greene used his novels to ponder deeper moral questions about right and wrong, all the while with the understanding that humans are flawed.
In Orient Express, the story begins in Ostend, Belgium and the reader is introduced to a few of the characters as they board the train which will travel through Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade on the way to its ultimate destination of Istanbul, Turkey.
Principal among the passengers are Carol Musker, a chorus girl and Carleton Myatt, a young, Jewish business man, both of whom are going to Turkey for work purposes and Richard John, a schoolteacher who is traveling under a British passport but who is clearly not English. Richard John's true identity is recognized at the platform in Cologne by Mabel Warren, a journalist, who is seeing off her lover Janet Pardoe. Mabel then jumps on the train for what she thinks will be the scoop that will make her career. Finally, in Vienna, a criminal boards the train to escape arrest. Mix and stir, the characters will intersect and miss each other as the train rumbles further eastward.
I found the dialogue a bit dated and stilted at times, which is to be expected I guess. Also there is some quite virulent anti-Semitism expressed by some characters that I believe the reader is supposed to understand as wrong, but also the author utilized quite a few stereotypical prejudices about Jews which I doubt he considered harmful. However, for this modern reader, it was pretty jarring to read. I enjoyed Orient Express for what it was, but if you are only going to read one of Greene’s novels, I would recommend The Quiet American or The Heart of the Matter over this one.