I’ve read a good deal of Graham Greene and my reactions have ranged from generally enjoyed to greatly enjoyed such as in the case of “The Power and the Glory.’ One of his books I hadn’t read was “The End of the Affair.” The topic of the book just did not appeal to me. Recently though Audible released a version of this book that was free for members and was narrated by Collin Firth. Since I had just run out of audiobooks I thought I would give it a try.
There is a saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and the same goes for the title. I was completely unprepared for just how good this book was and how it engaged me from start to finish. It tells the story of Maurice Bendrix a writer as he gives an account of an adulterous affair. The first half or more of the book is a godless world of passions as he relates what he calls his record of hate towards the women Sarah he had an affair with and towards her husband. The admixture of hate/love/jealously and confused feelings drive the first part of the narrative. He wants to pick off where he left off with her and ends of hiring a private detective to follow her around to see if she is having an affair with someone else. He also details his relationship with her husband as events unfold. The mere description of this plot again is not one that would appeal to me, but the wonderful writing and reflective telling of the story by Maurice really hooked me in.
If that was how it had continued I would have just enjoyed the novel for its prose and storytelling. It’s depth though was greater than a story involving fallen people in a world where the world is all there is. The latter half of the story is where we get the viewpoint of Sarah and a more redemptive storyline. The issues of faith and unbelief are played out in the characters and there is the tension of not believing in God and hating him at the same time for not existing. As is usual with Graham Greene there is a Catholic element that both presents the faith and the lived contradictions of the faith as in the authors own life. Some have critiqued Greene for his presentation of sin and the repercussions of adultery as portrayed in this story didn’t meet the normal consequences. I can agree with those critiques and still see some areas where the truth shines through in parts like the sun poking through the clouds. His books are full of adultery and unfortunately this also seems to have been true of his life. You certainly wonder how much of Maurice reflections are a mouthpiece for the authors own feelings at times and his struggles with the faith.
There were several lines in the book that caught my ear and many more that I didn’t want to just let slip through into the ether.
One is from Sarah “I wish I knew a prayer that wasn’t me, me, me. Help me. Let me be happier. Let me die soon. Me, me, me.”
Another is from a priest that enters the story towards the end of the book “There is nothing we can do some of the saints haven’t done before us.”