Loser Takes All by Graham Greene

★★★★☆ (4/5)

One adapts oneself to money much more easily than to poverty: Rousseau might have written that man was born rich and is everywhere impoverished

A wonderfully short and fun read, Graham Greene’s “Loser Takes All” is a first person account by Bertram, an accountant of humble means. He works in a large industrial complex and upon the insistence of his extremely intimidating boss Mr. Dreuther, he is coerced into marrying his beloved Cary in Monte Carlo instead of the modest wedding they had arranged at a local church.

Bertram and Cary travel to Monte Carlo, settle in an affluent hotel and await the arrival of Mr. Dreuther in his yacht who does not show up as promised. Days pass by and the couple’s means begin to run low until they are left with no money at all. Bertram is an avid gambler as well and through his mathematician instincts, he surmises that he may be able to win money at the Roulette tables. He begins to lose more and more money as he gets sucked into the “system”. The couple begin to squabble on Bertram’s gambling habits which become more routine as days pass by.

The room was more than empty—it was vacant. It was where somebody had been and wouldn’t be again

Cary leaves Bertram for another indigent but handsome gambler who frequents the casino. Bertram begins to win the system and comes into possession of millions. His luck takes a further leap when a shareholder of his company begs Bertram for a loan which the latter is only willing to give in exchange of the controlling shares. Bertram’s chief motivation is to seek revenge on Dreuther for the misery their boss inflicted upon them owing to broken promises. Meanwhile, Dreuther’s yacht docks at the harbour and Bertram realises that his boss had completely forgotten about their arrangement in Monte Carlo. He laments the loss of his wife and Dreuther placates him with a plan to win his wife back.

I knew about his kindness, but kindness at the skin-deep level can ruin people. Kindness has got to care

Later that night, Bertram confronts his wife with her handsome friend and pays off the latter to be rid of him. On the yacht, Bertram consoles Cary and tells her how he gave all his newly-earned money away. The couple returns to their modest beginnings with revived love and hope for the future.

I think for a moment we were both afraid to go in. Nothing inside could be as good as this, and nothing was

This novella deals with the soullessness of big business and gambling with the passion of true love and companionship. The writing style makes this a page-turner. It’s enriching and adds multiple dimensions to simply-constructed sentences without pretension. I ventured upon this book as a light-read and it did justice. It’s a gripping, thrilling story with a subject matter that wavers between the thought-provoking and the entertaining.


  • “You seem to get afraid of being old when you’re rich.” “There may be worse fears when you are poor.” “They are ones we are used to”
  • She was not too young to be wise, but she was too young to know that wisdom shouldn’t be spoken aloud when you are happy
  • I have never been able to understand the layman’s indifference to figures. The veriest fool vaguely appreciates the poetry of the solar system—”the army of unalterable law”—and yet he cannot see glamour in the stately march of the columns, certain figures moving upwards, crossing over, one digit running the whole length of every column, emerging, like some elaborate drill at Trooping the Colour. I was following one small figure now, dodging in pursuit
  • So simple when you knew, but everyone before me had accepted the perfection of the machine and no machine is perfect; in every join, rivet, screw lies original sin
  • He was a prisoner in his room, and small facts of the outer world came to him with the shock of novelty; he entertained them as an imprisoned man entertains a mouse or treasures a leaf blown through the bars
  • “Terrible” was her favourite adjective—it wasn’t in her mouth a cliché—there was terror in her pleasures, her fears, her anxieties, her laughter—the terror of surprise, of seeing something for the first time
  • I have never liked uniforms—they remind me that there are those who command and those who are commanded
  • Everything was rocky grey and gorse-yellow in the late sun which flowed out between the cold shoulders of the hills where the shadows waited
  • How they defeat us with their silences: one can’t repeat a silence or throw it back as one can a word
  • “We forget a lot of things near at hand, but we remember the past. I am often troubled by the past. Unnecessary misunderstanding. Unnecessary pain.”
  • People don’t like reality. They don’t like common sense. Until age forces it on them
  • There are different types of ambition—that is all, and my wife found she preferred mine
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