“Human beings are capable of the most simple errors.”
Bertram is a middle-aged accountant employed by a large firm when he comes to the attention of the company director, Dreuther. Bertram has a nice quiet, modest wedding planned followed by a honeymoon in Bournemouth–this is all that he and his fiance, Cary can afford, but when Druether hears of their plans, he offers to send them–at his expense–to Monte Carlo. The plan is that Bertram and Cary will marry in romantic Monte Carlo, and then board Dreuther’s yacht for an extended honeymoon around the coast of Italy. Bertram, pressured to provide a honeymoon that is the equivalent of the one endured in Paris with his first wife, “Dirty,” accepts Druether’s offer.
The plan goes horribly wrong when Dreuther fails to arrive in Monte Carlo as arranged. Bertram and Cary rapidly run out of money, and Bertram, with his fascination with numbers, develops a system for playing roulette. Their relationship and their love is tested–first by the poverty they are immediately reduced to, and then by Bertram’s winning streak as his “system” at the roulette wheel begins to work. But as Bertram carts off big winnings from the table, he discovers he is about to lose something very, very precious.
Loser Takes All is a slight novel at just over 120 pages, but I was fascinated to the very last page. Greene analyses human nature using the seductiveness of money, and shows how the corrupting and insatiable hunger for money destroys love, faith, character, and prudence. The amoral Dreuther is one of the most fascinating literary characters I’ve discovered in recent years (he reminds me very much of a character from a Balzac novel), and his role in this novel is both chilling and sublime.