Eric_W's Reviews > The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
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Apr 28, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: miscellaneous
Read in December, 2009

** spoiler alert ** "I wrote at the start this was a record of hate." Hate, love, God, relationships, are all very much a part of this intensely personal and intriguing book. (The movie with Ralph Fiennes is terrific.) Several sources have suggested that the book is partially autobiographical and that Sarah is loosely based on Greene's affair with Catherine Walston (there is a book entitled The Third Woman about the two of them.)

Major players:

Maurice, the narrator, is not very likable, and one cannot help wondering how his viewpoint colors our perception of events. He's insanely jealous of Henry and anyone else Sarah seems to show some interest in. He suspects -- we don't know for sure if this is true or not -- that Sarah is having other affairs. He claims to be atheist, yet blames God for many of the events.

Sarah is the bored or at least unhappy wife of Henry, a British civil servant, who seems to love Sarah (virtually everyone in the book does). She falls desperately (a very appropriate word) in love with Maurice, a writer, who seems to be equally in love with her. I'm a little unclear as to how much of his love is narcissistic. (I'm still unclear about a lot of this book, but that's what makes it so good.) She makes a vow to God to end the affair if Maurice survives the bombing (I think we are supposed to believe she thinks he's dead, which has resurrection overtones that bugged the hell out of me.) She laterrenegs on the promise and resumes her affair with Maurice. (In the movie they spend a wonderful week in Brighton together.)

Henry, the aforementioned bureaucrat, may be the least appreciated of the characters. He really wants Sarah to be happy, to the point where he appears (from Maurice's point of view, anyway) to condone her affair with Maurice. He asks Maurice to live with him after Sarah's death, an invitation that strikes me as more than peculiar, but he's a weak individual. If there's an unselfish love, it's Henry's.

While I very much liked the book, and it reflects perhaps Greene's own struggles with Catholicism, I, unlike most people, I suspect, thought it made a mockery of Sarah's sudden faith. When a bomb strikes the house they are in, she believes Maurice might have been killed and prays to God that if he is allowed to live, she will never see him again. He survives and she breaks off the affair, only to have it resume two years later, just before her death from pneumonia, a death that the doctor says might have been prevented had it been treated sooner. She says at one point "I fell into belief the way I fell into love." Now that to me mocks either belief or love. And since I thought this was one of the great love stories, I chose to believe it's a mockery of belief.

I was puzzled and left empty by a lack of foreplay, oops, Freudian slip, rather the lack of development of their relationship. It seemed to come from left field, without much preparation. I missed that, but, again, we are viewing the world through limited lenses and from a man who writes that "happiness is boring." All the clues we have about Maurice come from himself and what little we find in Sarah's stolen journal.

Something I definitely did not like and thought superfluous was the attribution to Sarah of some miracles or sudden cures, as if she somehow were made "holy" by her recognition of her sinful behavior. Fortunately, the movie only touches on these and is the stronger for it. I felt the entire section after her death should have been run through the shredder. Smyth's "cleansing" was a bit much. This attempt to make Sarah saintly was a puzzle. I don't see the point at all. (And now that Benedict is thinking of canonizing Pius XII it really has me confused.).

There are some really good reviews of this book elsewhere on Goodreads (Jen's is outstanding) but I quibble with one of her comments regarding the characters having their disbelief, if you will, weakened and moved toward some kind of faith. I saw it very differently. Bendrix is angry and his hate is directed toward Sarah's mistaken belief in something that could not exist and which ruined their attempt at happiness. (Bendrix has lots of narcissistic and selfish issues of his own, but aside from that...)

I continue to wonder if books like this don't reflect an ennui peculiar to the rich middle class. Only they have the time and money to be bored in such an existential way

Some people, I suspect. might have their faith strengthened by reading this book. My lack of faith was fortified. Bendrix's last line spoken to a God he does not believe in (oh, really?) is "Leave me alone forever."
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben I’m sending this comment to all of my friends that have this on their “to read” list. Do NOT read the introduction to the penguin edition of this: it contains a major spoiler on its first page. I didn’t read the introduction until after reading the novel, so I was lucky. (It’s a shitty introduction anyhow; really not worth your time.)

In fact, I don’t advise that you read the introduction to non penguin editions either. I just don’t see how it could be worth the spoiler risk.

Okay, enjoy!

message 2: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Such a great book.

message 3: by Katie (new)

Katie Can't wait for your review, Eric!

message 4: by Jen (last edited Dec 21, 2009 08:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Here I am, waiting to quibble.

I saw the book as an exploration in free will and predestination. And I think that Bendrix did waver a bit toward the end in his disbelief. And his fear over his uncertainity made him hate what made him fear all the more.

Bendrix has such a bipolar relationship with Sarah; he's either swooning or swearing. And he never seems to find an even keel, poor thing...not only that, but he hates attempting to balance his world with Sarah's, wants things up or down, and I think Greene is pointing out through Bendrix that things aren't always that easy; they are messy and chaotic, a big jumbledy mess of what you think may be true, what you know is true, and how you work your way to finding truth.

But I'm probably reading way too much into it all.

message 5: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen And reading your review and finding my name and review mentioned made me blush. It's no secret that I love me some Greene. My man gave me his complete short stories and The Man Within for Christmas. I'm now reading The Quiet American.

message 6: by Eric_W (last edited Dec 22, 2009 06:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric_W Jen wrote: "And reading your review and finding my name and review mentioned made me blush. It's no secret that I love me some Greene. My man gave me his complete short stories and The Man Within for Christm..."

Your review is the kind of review I always aspire to write and never achieve. The great thing about Greene is that he really makes you think about a lot of things and on many levels. Your comments are exactly on point. Love is messy, chaotic and often dangerous, but also sublimely wonderful.

I had not seen the free will/predestination connections. So does Maurice believe God is intervening and taking away free will? Hence his anger?

This book is part of his Catholic tetralogy, according to people who know about such things, and while I am a confirmed non-believer, I find discussion of the origins of belief quite interesting and worthy of discussion.

If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend it highly. The electricity between Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore is palpable.

message 7: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Just popping up to say I agree the movie is very good indeed, and I usually hate films made of my favourite novels.

message 8: by Kelly (last edited Dec 22, 2009 07:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Now that to me mocks either belief or love. And since I thought this was one of the great love stories, I chose to believe it's a mockery of belief.

I too thought this was an excellent review and throughly covered the major issues addressed in this novel. However, I do want to "quibble" with the above.

I don't think that that was a mockery at all. When she says "I fell into belief the same way I fell into love," I think it was drawing a very powerful parallel. ie, if you believe in these two people falling in love in such an abrupt way, why is belief any different? I thought it made the love story even more powerful- Sarah's belief seemed almost like evidence of her love for Maurice. Had she given it up, she would have almost been admitting that she didn't care for him very much at all. Haven't a lot of people, even ones who might not believe in God, been in the position of saying, "Please God, if you give me just this one thing..." Its just that most of us don't follow through on whatever we promise (or at least, I definitely didn't keep that promise never to ask for anything again when I got an A on that test I was convinced would ruin my life if I didn't). There are definitely some black, depressing jokes in here, but I do think that the book takes both love and faith very seriously despite all that.

However, I think he took that "very seriously" thing overboard and literally with the end. I do agree that that whole bit at the end where he makes Sarah saintly and does all the miracle shit and all that- that's dumb and stupid and unnecessary and I think throws away all the work he did getting people to go along with him up until that point. I cut him a lot of slack for all the personal shit he was going through and his own conversion, etc. It is still one of my favorite books, even if it makes me want to scream that it could have been better.

Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic (though I'm pretty lapsed now), and a lot of this strikes close to home, so I might be more forgiving than I should be.

message 9: by Ian (last edited Jan 15, 2013 07:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Wonderful review of a favourite book.

I actually liked the association of belief and love from a symmetrical point of view, although part of the appeal for Greene (and in my case, for Graye) was the wit and appeal of the line.

Plus crucial to the sentence is the sense of a fall, if we can fall in love, why can't we fall into belief.

Are both the satisfaction of a need? And it's easy to fall for a solution like falling for the pitch of a snake oil salesman?

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