Maurice Bendrix, an author and Sarah were embroiled in a four year, passionate and intense affair before she suddenly ended it during the London Blitz. Some two years later, Maurice runs into Sarah’s husband Henry looking dazed in the street and takes him first for a drink, and then later back home, where he sees Sarah for the first time since she ended it.
Henry has confessed to Maurice a sense of unease about Sarah, the possibility that she may not be loyal and Maurice finds himself suddenly reliving their affair. He knew he wasn’t her first, and had assumed he would not be her last and now, confronted with that possibility through Henry’s vague suspicion and unease, he finds the old feelings of love and jealousy rearing up inside him again. He hires a private detective himself to track Sarah’s movements, desperate to know for himself what is going on, even if Henry wishes to bury his head in the sand.
The End Of The Affair is not really a story of love – it’s much more than that. It’s about love, loyalty, loss, hatred, obsession and faith. A cast of characters, re-drawn together by a chance meeting in the street leading to a series of events that will alter the characters lives and perceptions.
This is my second Graham Greene novel (I read Brighton Rock last year) and I think this was the one I had been wanting to read the most. When the novel opens, Maurice, our narrator, has spotted Sarah’s husband in the street some two years after the end of his affair with Henry’s wife, Sarah. Maurice readily admits that he has never loved anyone in the way in which he loved Sarah but she never seemed to return the feelings with the same fervor, maintaining a light distance and lighthearted attitude towards her extramarital activities. We don’t know the reason for the breakdown in the affair (at this stage Maurice himself has no idea either) and when he gets talking to Henry and Henry reveals that a friend has given him the name of a discreet private detection agency, Maurice cannot help himself.
He contacts the agency himself, his feelings for Sarah stirred up to the surface and he becomes obsessed with whether or not she has another lover. He has her tailed by an agent who reports directly to him and who delivers to him, Sarah’s diary through which Maurice learns the truth about his long affair with Sarah, the reason why she broke it off and her struggle with finding her faith.
It amazed me how much Greene managed to convey with a tiny novel, just 160p in this format. The End Of The Affair is wonderfully complex, with characters that although we are never given much information on, are rich and well developed, deep and superbly flawed. Maurice himself is a terse narrator, not particularly warm or likable even when talking of his great love for Sarah. He’s very open in his obsession with Sarah, and even admits to himself that his jealousy ruined many a time they had together as he questioned her on her love and devotion, her faithfulness and loyalty to Henry. Sarah is an intriguing character and the extracts from her diaries were amazing reading – I’d have loved to have been in her head more when she made her decisions, both to start seeing Maurice and to end it. I found her fascinating in lots of aspects, her loyalty to her husband in an affectionate but basically sexless marriage and also her later struggle to find and accept her faith, to really embrace it.
Although elements of this story at first seem a thinly-veiled partial autobiography – Maurice is a writer who has a lengthy affair with a married woman, Greene was a prolific author who had a lengthy affair with a married woman, whom the original printing of this book was dedicated to. Greene was also a Roman Catholic and religious themes do feature strongly in his writings. The End Of The Affair explores religion and faith extensively in the latter third of the book, the question of whether or not there is really a God being posed and debated by characters. Apparently his residence also sustained bomb damage during the Blitz, much the same as Maurice’s did. But Greene has taken his own situation and expanded upon it, altered it to create a story of human emotion, suffering and experience. I knew from Brighton Rock that to read a Greene novel isn’t to bask in happiness and joy - The End Of The Affair is a bleak look at relationships and explorations of religion and belief and deals made with a deity that can change everything.
Brighton Rock got me started and this one just increased my desire to read Graham Greene’s entire backlist.