A Burnt Out Case

A Burnt-Out Case - Graham Greene

‘I told you I’ve retired.’

‘One never retires from a vocation.’

‘Oh yes, make no mistake, one does. One comes to an end.’

‘What are you here for then? To make love to a black woman?’

‘No. One comes to an end of that too. Possibly sex and a vocation are born and die together. Let me roll bandages or carry buckets. All I want is to pass the time.’

‘I thought you wanted to be of use.’

‘Listen,’ Querry said and then fell silent.

‘I am listening.’


To me this quote perfectly describes A Burnt Out Case - it is a story about communication and miscommunication.


When Querry, a world famous architect, struggles to find any interest in life he decides to walk out and take up living in a leper colony in the Congo. Fed up with fame and having to cater to taste of people who do not share his vision or ability to imagine, he hopes that no one would recognise him, and all he wants to do is to be of use to the people around him. 


However, things don't go to plan. Even at the leper colony he encounters a band of expats who badger him about his past life. As little by little the reasons for his burn-out are revealed, Querry starts to recover from the depression he experienced only to be confronted with the same paradox he tried to flee from. 


"‘Two of your churches are famous. Didn’t you care what happened inside them – to people?’

‘The acoustics had to be good of course. The high altar had to be visible to all. But people hated them. They said they weren’t designed for prayer. They meant that they were not Roman or Gothic or Byzantine. And in a year they had cluttered them up with their cheap plaster saints; they took out my plain windows and put in stained glass dedicated to dead pork-packers who had contributed to diocesan funds, and when they had destroyed my space and my light, they were able to pray again, and they even became proud of what they had spoilt.'"