by Shirley Hazzard
Shirley Hazzard’s first encounter with Graham Greene had it all: timing, art, and an unbeatable setting–Capri. One December morning in the late ’60s, he and a friend sat down at a café table next to hers and he began to quote from Browning’s “The Lost Mistress.” Yet try as Greene might, the last line wouldn’t come to him. When she got up to go, Hazzard filled in the blank. As the beginning of a literary friendship goes, this could hardly be bettered. What’s more, within hours she and her husband, Francis Steegmuller, were dining with the English author. Greene on Capri, Hazzard’s evocation of their subsequent years of friendship, is generous, restrained, and complex. Two of those adjectives could, she makes clear, describe her friend, while restraint doesn’t seem to have been part of his being.
Many of the book’s pleasures come, too, in her descriptions of Capri, capturing both the island’s romance and its layers of unreality. But in the end, Hazzard’s considerable generosity cannot preclude disappointment with Greene. How could it when she too often witnessed her friend’s discernment edging into deep disdain? Greene on Capri makes one long for a fuller Hazzard memoir–and even more so for another of her beautiful fictions.