Mortmain by Graham Greene, 1963
The magic trick:
A standard conflict that develops in a surprising direction
Strange little story from Graham Greene. It feels slight, designed more to amuse than make one really think about human existence.
And yet …
For a story whose premise would play well as a sitcom episode, “Mortmain” does manage to leave an impression. The conflict is very clever. It begins with a very standard premise – a newly married couple’s matrimonial bliss complicated by an ex-girlfriend. It’s the way the conflict develops that surprises.
And that’s quite a trick on Greene’s part.
When Julia had finished reading the letter she said, “I think she’s a wonderful woman. How very, very sweet of her to write like that. You know I was – only now and then of course – just a little worried about her. After all I wouldn’t like to lose you after ten years.”
When they were in the taxi going back to Athens she said, “Were you very happy at Napoule?”
“Yes, I suppose so. I don’t remember, it wasn’t like this.”
With the antennae of a lover her could feel her moving away from him, though her shoulders still touched. The sun was bright on the road from Sunium, the warm sleepy loving siesta lay ahead, and yet … “Is anything the matter, darling?” he asked.
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