Posted in Short Stories

A Branch of the Service by Graham Greene

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This week I drew the Nine of Spades which corresponds to Graham Greene’s short story, “A Branch of the Service”, on my list for my Deal Me In 2014 project.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a short story can be an excellent format for comedy and humor.  Perhaps the brevity of a short story can keep humor from getting too “old”.

“A Branch of the Service”, in addition to being a short story, uses another format for comedy.  Sometimes joining two elements that one might not think of together can be ripe for a good laugh.  In Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut has a couple of stories where his narrator is a storm window repairman for the rich and the famous such as the Kennedys and the Hiltons.  They are brilliantly funny, as is this story by Graham Greene.

Graham Greene

The unusual pairing in this story is a Restaurant and Food Critic who doubles as a spy for the British Government.  Or is he a spy for the British Government who doubles as a Restaurant and Food Critic?  The two are blended together so perfectly that it doesn’t really matter.  The agency for which the narrator works originally was named International Reliable Restaurants Association but this had to be changed due to “Irish difficulties” (IRRA) with the new name being International Guide to Good Restaurants (IGGR).

Through the course of the story, the narrator, with wonderful British sarcasm and dry wit, tells the tales of two of his spy/restaurant encounters.  In the first tale, he makes a name for himself by nabbing a secret document in a manner that would make James Bond proud.  For the second tale, he’s not quite as successful as a risk of being a spy/restaurant critic is eating something that doesn’t quite agree with you.  The narrator graciously spares the reader the “unsavory details” but he makes his point.

It’s a little too early to really start thinking about a favorite short story for the year, but as far as funniest, this is the one to beat.


8 thoughts on “A Branch of the Service by Graham Greene

  1. Hi Dale,
    I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read – or even heard of – Graham Greene. How did you come to “discover” him?

    1. Jay, in 11th grade I read Greene’s novel Brighton Rock – sort of a British version of Rebel Without a Cause- and always meant to get back to him. I read The Power and the Glory recently which I think is considered his best work. He also wrote The Quiet American which was made into a movie with Michael Cain a few years ago. It had some political themes that made it controversial when it came out. I never realized he wrote short stories until I happened to look him up online and found this collection.

      He is not always politically correct, similar to Hemingway, so I think maybe that’s why he’s not quite on the radar these days. Greene definitely didn’t make the same splash that Hemingway made in the literary world, but I’ve enjoyed reading his work so far.

      There is also a Native American actor with the same name. I don’t think there is any relation.


  2. Great review! I’m familiar with Greene’s The Quiet American, as well as The Power and the Glory and Then End of the Affair, but I had no idea he wrote anything comedic. This sounds great!

    I was just this week reading a bit about Greene in an article on authors whose work was banned because it was considered threatening to some government or other authoritarian entity. Apparently, in Greene’s case, he managed to anger François “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti and get himself declared that country’s Enemy of the State #1!

    Article here:

    1. Thanks for the article, Candiss! I’m always fascinated and a little incredulous when I find out about books that have been banned for one reason or another. I usually read a banned book each year around “Banned Book Week” at the end of September. Maybe Greene’s “The Comedians” will be the book I read this year. So far, I haven’t been disappointed with getting reacquainted with him.

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