"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)
"He had an immense self-importance: he was unable to picture a world of which he was only a typical part - a world of treachery, violence, and lust in which his shame was altogether insignificant. How often the priest had heard the same confession - Man was so limited he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much."
My thoughts on Graham Greene's Stamboul Train, also read recently, are here. Much older reviews of his A Burnt-Out Case and Journey Without Maps are here and here.
The Power and the Glory is, compared to Stamboul Train, a more mature example of Greene's fiction. It's Greene using his own voice, and it's Greene telling a story in the more concise, journalistic style that made him famous. In my opinion it's not as good as his The End of the Affair, but it definitely ranks alongside other famous works by the same author. The Power and the Glory is, moreover, often referred to as Greene's masterpiece.
The novel begins at a Mexican port where an English dentist meets an ex-priest. From there it follows this ex-priest's flight from a government intent on executing him. As the ex-priest passes in and out of danger, he comes to understand both his personal failings and the meaning of his faith.
As a character study it's unquestionably brilliant. It's been a long time since I've seen a character described so convincingly, and with such an economy of words. Greene brings both the ex-priest and rural Mexico to vivid life, and at several points I had to remind myself that I was reading a book by a British author, not a Central or South American one. Anyone who's read and loved authors like Borges, Marquez or Allende will find a great deal to like in this book, and at just over 200 pages it offers a good entry point into the literary riches of that region. In this novel you can also see the influence of the earlier Joseph Conrad on Greene, and I dare say there are echoes of Conrad's Nostromo in The Power and the Glory.
Would I recommend this book? Unequivocally. It deserves the status it's acquired, and readers of all descriptions will enjoy it. Confirmed atheists beware, however. You'll need to keep an open mind for this one.
"Stamboul Train" by Graham Greene (1932)
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)
"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton" by Christopher Wilson (2005)
"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)