I thought I have a back-to-back Graham Greene week, so here’s another Greene’s book review.
Maurice Bendrix affair had ended 2 years ago. Out of the blue he was invited to have a drink by Henry Miles and rekindles his love and jealousy of Maurice to Sarah Miles. The love affair between Maurice and Sarah flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. Bendrix hires a private detective named Parkis who trails his subject with his young son. Slowly Maurice love (or hate) for Sarah turn into an obsession.
The end of the affair definitely feels like there is no beginning and there is no end, and is an apparent parallels with Greene’s own famous love affair with Lady Catherine Walston. We also offers some hints about Greene’s own writing habits. Bendrix the protagonist is a writer, and he writes a disciplined 500 words a day, has a passion for clean, singled-lined foolscap, mulls over his work before retiring to bed.
What strike me profound was that Bendrix who was so afraid that love would end one day that he tried to hasten the end and get the pain over with, made himself into a jealous and unbearable lover.
Insecurity is the worst sense that lovers feel; sometimes the most humdrum desireless marriage seems better. Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust.
I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour. When she left the house I couldn’t settle to work. I would reconstruct what we had said to each other; I would fan myself into anger or remorse. And all the time I knew I was forcing the pace. I was pushing, pushing the only thing I loved out of my life. As long as I could make believe that love lasted I was happy; I think I was even good to live with, and so love did last. But if love had to die, I wanted it to die quickly. It was as though our love were a small creature caught in a trap and bleeding to death; I had to shut my eyes and wring its neck.
Bendrix hated Sarah because he thinks Sarah does not love him, but eventually he found out that:
It’s a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love.
Rating : 3.5/5
There is hardly any plot in this novel, but it is an intimate account of emotions and passions so intense that can be both riveting and frustrating. Understandably, Greene’s theme of Tortured Catholicism is nothing new, but adding on extra dose of miracle healing and apparition in the dreams, it began to sound trite and frustrating (come off it!). Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. The End of the Affair is the fourth and last of Greene’s explicitly Catholic novels. Thank God. To top it off, Monica Ali wrote an uninspiring and over-analysed introduction to the book. I can’t even get into Monica Ali’s books before making several false start and ditching her latest one, “In The Kitchen”.
This is the third book of Greene I reviewed. Incidentally, all three of them displayed a very gracious attitude in marriage and adultery. It’s like Fowler in The Quiet American tells Pyle, yeah you can have her if you want, even though I want her for my own. In The Heart of the matter, Scobie encourages his restless wife Louise to spend more time with Wilson, take a long walk, discuss about books and poetry, just as long as she is happy. In the End of the Affairs, Henry Miles pimps her own wife by ignorance, inviting the man(Maurice) who slept with his wife for drinks and to share his house even after he knew about the affair. I thought it’s just bizarre. It projects a very laissez-faire attitude towards adultery.
My favourite paragraph from the novel would be:
The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.
Anyone who has been in love before would relate to the emotions and passions portrayed in this novel.
Paperback. Publisher: Vintage Classics [originally published 1951, this edition 2004]; Length: 160; Setting: Post-WWII London. Source: Library Loan. Finished reading at: 14 Jan 2010
About the Author and the book:
Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. In a letter to his wife Vivien he told her that he had “a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life”, and that “unfortunately, the disease is also one’s material”.
Bendrix is loosely based on Greene himself, and he reflects often on the act of writing a novel. Sarah is based loosely on Greene’s mistress at the time, Catherine Walston, to whom the book is dedicated. Graham Greene’s own affair with Lady Catherine Walston played into the basis for The End of the Affair. The British edition of the novel is dedicated to “C” while the American version is made out to “Catherine.”