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Readers of Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene may finish the book with a sense of relief. That isn’t the fault of the biographer Richard Greene (no relation), who has done an impressive job of tying together the many strands of the novelist’s life. It’s just that Greene’s story is such a sad one. Sad in his personal life: Greene experienced estrangement from his wife, a string of doomed affairs, and an addiction to prostitutes. Sad politically: Greene clung to vague revolutionary hopes, befriending Fidel Castro and flattering Mikhail Gorbachev, without finding a cause he could really stand for. Sad religiously: Though his novels did so much to define modern Catholicism, Greene drifted into a kind of eccentric semi-Christian agnosticism. Sad in the most obvious sense of all: “It simply seems that I’m beastly & that’s that,” he wrote to his mistress Catherine Walston. “I love you dearly & I hate myself so much.

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