Reviews of Human Factor, the (1978)
Review by SlowRain (2006-07-15)
I've read several of Graham Greene's novels now, and the man has seldom let me down. "The Human Factor" is no exception. It's an interesting novel from the point of view of a British double agent: that is, an MI6 agent who is passing information to the Soviets.
For those familiar with Greene's style, this one - for the most part - is just as well-written as his other entertainments, with perhaps a bit of slowness getting going in the first half. For those unfamiliar with Greene, his narrative is straight forward and to the point, but yet has a great deal of commentary. Like his other novels, it isn't a break-neck thriller, rather it tries to present spying in a more truthful light, as noted by numerous references to James Bond.
One of the highlights was the discussion on whether a Western agent could betray his country for some reason other than money, blackmail, or political ideology. It also brings up the separate issue of whether a Western agent is ever justified in betraying his country. These are not easy issues to discuss in a way that the general reading public would be sympathetic to, but he does a pretty good job of it. The only area where I think Greene may be criticized is that he made his character too sympathetic; a fact all the more obvious when you consider his lifelong friendship with British double agent, Kim Philby, even after he defected.
He discusses the issue of an intelligence agency jumping to conclusions without a proper or thorough investigation. In this area, I think Greene painted the MI6 security a little too incompetent, but that may have been a hyperbole on his part to raise awareness. He touches on Apartheid in South Africa, and then compares their marriage laws to MI6's rules on their employees' relationships; both being labeled by the respective authorities as "for the greater good". Again using Apartheid, he criticizes Western countries for being soft on a country's Human Rights record so as to gain other favors.
As much as I enjoyed this novel, I think it has a narrower range of appeal than some of his others. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed John le Carré's "Spy Who Came In From the Cold", but I don't think it would have much appeal for those under 40, nor women, as it is populated by a lot of middle aged men.