Monsignor Quixote, a novel of ideas

Graham Greene has written some of my favorite novels, including The Heart of the Matter,  A Burnt Out Case, and The Human Factor. Monsignor Quixote, another favorite of mine by Greene, was the subject of discussion on the BBC program Books and Authors on 10/22/13. Harriet Gilbert is the host of the show, and her guests for this edition were Gabriel Gbadamosi, a poet, playwright and essayist and author of the novel Vauxhall; and Brendan O’Neill, editor of the online magazine Spiked and author of Can I Recycle My Granny And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas. The format of the show is that Ms. Gilbert and each of her guests pick a book and they all discuss each of the books in turn. Mr. O’Neill chose Monsignor Quixote.

Briefly, the book is about a road trip that Father Quixote, a Spanish priest, and his friend Sancho, a former Communist mayor, take to Madrid. They have lots of adventures along the way and argue about religion and politics while acknowledging struggles with doubt. Mr. O’Neill makes the interesting observation that this is one of the “last great ideas novels.” While the story is ostensibly a portrait of a friendship, it’s really a vehicle for the characters to talk about two great ideologies, Catholicism and Communism. In contrast, Mr. O’Neill argues, modern fiction tends to be based on personal identity rather than ideas, citing fiction by contemporary authors like Zadie Smith, for example.

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit the URL below, then scroll down until you come to the program title, dated 10/22/13.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/openbook

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One thought on “Monsignor Quixote, a novel of ideas

  1. Very interesting! I think it’s an over-generalization to say that modern fiction is about identity rather than ideas, though. Bleeding Edge is much more of an ideas novel than an identity novel, for instance. I wonder if it’s a gender thing to some extent? Most of the identity novels I can think of off the top of my head are written by women, and most of the (relatively few) ideas novels are by men. Funny.

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