When book club starts up again, our first read is The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I took the book out of the library to read it a month in advance to our meeting. We members made an agreement not to buy the book. We don't want money to be an issue for anyone. Hence, any book we recommend has to be available in our Minuteman Library Network. That's why I'm returning the book (I read it and returned it for someone else to read.)
As I review it, I need to say that if the reader has the edition where John Updike writes the introduction, the reader needs to skip it. This introduction will turn you off from reading the book. Updike, renowned author as he is, writes in such convoluted syntax and arcane references that most casual book club members won't understand his references. Plus it's too long, so skip it and read it after completing the book. The introduction will make a little more sense, then.
Some Catholics won't like the book because the priest protagonist is a loser. He is a poor excuse for a human being, a cowardly drunk, but when it comes to doing his priestly duties, he performs them with serious, sacred reverence. Some Catholic Book Recommendation lists banned the book. But Pope Paul VI enjoyed the book and told Greene to ignore his critics.
The setting is the Cristero War 1927-1929. It is forbidden in Mexico to have religion. Churches have been destroyed and priests shot. If a priest renounced his priesthood and religion and married, he could live and even received a government pension. One character in the novel did that, Padre Jose. Our poor protagonist died without absolution because Padre Jose ignored his pleas to hear his confession. BTW, our protagonist doesn't have a name. He is just called the priest, or the whiskey priest. A whiskey priest is a priest who is an alcoholic. Yes, our main character is a whiskey priest. He's also a fornicator and fathered a child. I guess he broke everyone of the commandments, (maybe not the 6th), never mind the solemn promises he made when he was ordained. But he never (he was tempted), never broke faith. He celebrated Mass solemnly and as sacred as clandestine conditions allowed. He believed.
As for Greene's writing, I suggest you keep a glass of water beside you, as you read. Greene's descriptions of the arid, barren landscape of Mexico will have your tongue thicken and stick to the roof of your mouth. The descriptions of Mexican jail conditions will make you vomit. The characterization is so real you will find yourself praying for the dying, the evil, and of course the whiskey priest. (Wait a minute! This is fiction. Whom am I praying for?)
The antagonist in the story, like the priest, isn't named. He is called the Lieutenant. He's a police lieutenant. He hates the Catholic Church, especially priests. But in the end, he tries to help the priest find a confessor. That's something the Lieutenant doesn't believe in, ...yet why does he do it?
As the priest runs from hiding place to hiding place, he performs his priestly duties devoutly, even though sometimes it's reluctantly. He spends hours hearing confessions. He baptizes too many to count. He performs last rites. Meanwhile the lieutenant is breathing down his neck. He actually captures him twice and puts him in jail for drunkenness, but doesn't realize he's the priest he is seeking.
All stories end. The priest is betrayed. It's a bittersweet ending because the priest was called to administer last rites, knowing it was a trap. But the priest went anyway. He was allowed to minister absolution and apostolic rites and then he was taken away.
What do you think? Was he a martyr? He died for the faith. If Dismas, the thief beside Jesus on the cross, was promised heaven, then surely a whiskey priest dying for performing his priestly duties can not only be forgiven his human frailties, but also be absolved due to his faithfulness.
BTW, the title "The Power and the Glory," is from the doxology, in the Lord's Prayer.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.