Misty remembrances by Greene’s late-life French mistress reveal intimate moments but few state secrets.
Cloetta was interviewed shortly before her death in 2001 by French journalist Allain, whose parents were friends of Greene’s. (The mysterious 1960 assassination in Morocco of the interviewer’s father, Resistance hero Yves Allain, provides a shadowy subtext here.) Cloetta recalls first meeting the famous English author in 1959, when she was living in Douala, Cameroon, with her importer husband and two teenaged daughters. Diminutive, boyish and intelligent, 36-year-old Cloetta was apparently in the process of separation (though she never actually divorced), while Greene, at 55, had not quite extricated himself from his relationship with Catherine Walston. Nonetheless, after he moved permanently to Antibes in the mid-1960s the lovers allowed themselves to be “carried away by passion,” as Cloetta describes it to Allain. The interviewer asks some barbed questions: Did the reluctant Cloetta ever wonder, after being lured by Greene to a Paris brothel for an evening of fun, what kind of “very strange character” she was getting involved with? “My whole life has been a secret,” Cloetta provocatively asserts; appropriately, her answers are elusive. Allain can’t even get Cloetta to admit that Greene was playing a double game with his good friend, English spy turned Soviet defector Kim Philby. She acknowledges only that “to the very end, he worked with the British Services.” Cloetta’s portrait of her lover is touching and convincing. It also confirms his “passion for secrecy”: the doubts, suspicions and aspersions cast since Greene’s death in 1991 won’t likely ever be cleared.
Not much here that hasn’t been exhaustively discussed in Norman Sherry’s three-volume The Life of Graham Greene (1989, 1995, 2004)—or, for that matter, in Allain’s own The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene (1983).