Unmasking Graham Greene

In the early summer of last year, I found myself on the Cote d’Azur – in Antibes, to be precise – with a couple of hours to spare. Spontaneously, I decided to try to find the apartment block in the town where Graham Greene had lived for the last ­decades of his life – the Résidence des Fleurs on the Avenue Pasteur. I found the street and the apartment block without too much difficulty.

Greene moved here in 1966 when he was 62, and it became his permanent residence for the rest of his life (born in 1904, he died in 1991, aged 86, having lived in every decade of the 20th century). I suppose in the 1960s the Résidence des Fleurs was newly built, the very acme of chic, modern living – but when I saw it and wandered around its precincts it was in bad shape: shabby with stained concrete, its orange awnings over its serried balconies were tattered and smirched. The commercial premises on the ground floor looked low-rent and gimcrack. A florist with a few parched ferns in the window, a grimy launderette, a car-hire firm. Curiously, its down-at-heel grubbiness made it seem very Greene-ian. On the wall by the main door was a small granite plaque about a foot square: “Graham Greene vécut ici 1966-1991”. In 2019, the building now perfectly suited the posthumous reputation of its most famous resident, tailor-made for inclusion in that murky, morally dubious, seedy world of his novels – Greeneland.

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