Maurice Bendrix's love affair with his friend's wife, Sarah, had begun in London during the Blitz. One day, inexplicably and without warning, Sarah had broken off the relationship. Two years later, driven by obsessive jealousy and grief, Bendrix sends Parkis, a private detective, to follow Sarah.
A couple minutes later, I was back looking at it again, and after flipping through a few pages I decided to give it a try. Something about the writing caught me. And now that I've read it, I think I know why. The writing is excellent, lithe and strong, clothing a complicated, perceptive little story. And some of the ideas explored here are going to occupy my mind for some time.
Maurice Bendrix is our narrator, a professional writer who is just teetering on the edge of popularity. He meets Sarah at a party and pursues her not for an affair, but for information for his next book on the daily life of her civil servant husband. Before long, Bendrix and Sarah are embroiled in a passionate affair that contains the seeds of its own destruction. Bendrix is jealous and insecure and apparently his character was loosely based on Greene himself. This is all happening during World War II, and the Blitz plays a pivotal role in the events of the story.
All the characters are believable and carefully written. Sarah seems like just the kind of person I would dislike, a woman whose beauty and easy ways cause her to indulge in a string of affairs. She needs men in a way that is rather pathetic. But somehow I can't dislike her. Especially when we get to her diary, it's impossible not to feel empathy with her. She is honest about what is happening, and brave... and we start to see that all of her adulteries are really just symptoms of a deeper adultery, the adultery committed against God.
Because yes, God is very much a character in this novel. I wasn't expecting that. In the end this novel is about a spiritual adultery as well as a physical. In the course of the book Sarah meets and befriends a proselytizing atheist who has dedicated his life to disproving God. His very earnestness against Christianity, all his arguments and proofs, convince her of God's reality:
He hated a fable, he fought against a fable, he took a fable seriously. I couldn't hate Hansel and Gretel, I couldn't hate their sugar house as he hated the legend of heaven. When I was a child I could hate the wicked queen in Snow White, but Richard didn't hate his fairy-tale Devil. The Devil didn't exist and God didn't exist, but all his hatred was for the good fairy-tale, not the wicked one... Oh God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean? (112)
Evelyn Waugh praised this novel and it's easy to see how Brideshead Revisited influenced it. In both novels, God (dressed in Catholicism) is the ultimate reason that the affair cannot last. He is the lover that both women cannot continue denying forever, the rival that Charles and Bendrix fear the most. Both men come to a kind of faith in the end, but Charles' is positive while Bendrix's is angry. Bendrix comes to believe in God, but only so that he can hate Him. We can't hate someone we don't believe in, a "vapour." The novel ends with Bendrix saying,
... I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever.
Whether or not this is the way it will stay is anyone's guess.
This book took me by surprise. I was expecting rants about human jealousy and possession and detailed descriptions of sex. There was some of that, sure (handled tastefully for the most part). But there was a lot more. Ultimately this book is both a fist shaken at God and a palm upturned in prayer — and sometimes both at the same time.
Complex, thought provoking, angry, sad, and in some ways very beautiful. I will certainly revisit this book.
Much of the novel falls under the "if there's a God" speculation. Sarah prays for God, if there is one, top spare Bendrix from a bombing and promises to give up her lover if God grants her wish. Bendrix wonders, if there's a God, why does he take Sarah away, and later, he wants to believe that there is a God so that he can hate him for taking Sarah away.
Sarah seemed a cypher throughout, both to Bendrix and to the reader. I suppose Greene wanted us to be surprised along with Bendrix at what he later learns about her, but she seemed a rather vapid character to have inspired such raging emotions. The friendship that develops between Bendrix and Henry is certainly an odd one, but Henry, being the most honest (and perhaps simple) character in the novel, is also the most easily understood and most empathetic.
I listened to the book on audio, finely read by Colin Firth. Overall, however, I was underwhelmed by The End of the Affair. I'll probably give Greene another try, but not for awhile. He seems to be one of those writers whose work is firmly rooted in an era--not one in which I have a particular interest.
This was the first Graham Greene book I've ever read. There something delicious about the way he writes. He finds ways to express common feelings in extraordinary ways. He also turned emotions that could make you hate a character, like jealousy or piety, into something relatable. I'm excited to pick up another book by him.
In the end the story is really a question of faith. The main characters are forced to face the belief or lack of belief in God. I heard one person describe this book as "Henry, his wife, her lover and God," and that's exactly it. It's about those four characters and how they each relate to each other.
"If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?"
"Sometimes I see myself reflected too closely in other men for comfort, and then I have an enormous wish to believe in the saints, in heroic virtue."
There's a melancholy intensity to this book that reminded me in some ways of Anita Brookner's style of writing, which is rarely joyful yet somehow sucks you willingly into its vortex of despair.
In real life Graham Greene was a vociferous atheist before eventually arguing himself full circle into converting to Catholicism. This tug-of-war between belief and non-belief and the effect of each on how one leads one's life is developed as a key theme within this novel, and although it got lost in itself in a few passages it felt original and an interesting concept within the context of the novel.
4 stars - heady and intense, but those who like their fiction with a liberal sprinkle of joyfulness it may be too bleak.
That is the story in a nutshell. I found this book tedious and it started trying my patience. I didn't like any of the characters in the book. They were all stupid and pathetic except for Sylvia Black but she only made a cameo appearance for a couple of pages. Brian loved those few pages.
Brian loved Sylvia Black. Brian hated Bendrix. Brian hated Sarah. Brian hated Henry. Brian hated Smythe. Brian hated Parkis. Brian liked Parkis.
Greene is a masterful writer. The craft is all there nice and shiny, word after word. The question, 'Is there a God?', was the common thread throughout the book as was the thin line separating love from hate. This book just didn't connect much with me. Brian likes Greene. Brian didn't like The End of the Affair.
Staggering technique with an intuitive sensibility. Its beautiful melancholy lingers long after i finished the book.
“A vow’s not all that important – a vow to somebody I’ve never known, to somebody I don’t really believe in. Nobody will know that I’ve broken a vow, except me and Him – and He doesn’t exist, does he? He can’t exist. You can’t have a merciful God and this despair.”
“When we get to the end of human beings we have to delude ourselves into a belief in God, like a gourmet who demands more complex sauces with his food.”
“Hatred seems to operate the same glands as love: it even produces the same actions. If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?”
“There are times when a lover belongs to be also a father and a brother: he is jealous of the years he hasn’t shared.”
On living in the now:
“’Can’t you see what hope there’d be, if everybody in the world knew that there was nothing else but what we have here? No future compensation, rewards, punishments.’ His face had a crazy nobility when one cheek was hidden. ‘Then we’d begin to make this world like heaven.’”
“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.”
Henry has grown suspicious of his wife's frequent disappearances, and is considering hiring a private investigator. Ultimately he backs out, but Bendrix, obsessed enough by the affair that ended so abruptly just three years prior, takes on the investigator himself. When the sleuth Parkis presents Sarah's journal, Bendrix is forced to reconcile his machinations for the inevitable end with Sarah's own writings.
"The End of the Affair" is a novel that ultimately treads along questions of faith: in others as well as in God. Set in World War II England and suffused with jealousy, obsession, love and hate, the affair will grip you until its end.
I found the character of Parkis likeable and rather Dickensian in the way he was depicted.
I shall certainly read more of Greene's work.
Greene tells his story through first-person narrator, Maurice Bendrix, a young writer obsessed with beautiful Sarah. Sarah is married to Henry, a civil servant with ambitions to climb the civil-service ladder and achieve a certain social status in the process. The limitations of a first-person viewpoint are defeated by introducing Sarah’s personal journal, the breakthrough that reveals to Bendrix—and the reader—Sarah’s motivation and gut-wrenching inner struggle.
The core conflict is exposed during one of the novel’s frequent flashbacks. During a crisis, Sarah does what many of us do: she makes a promise to God . . . if only. In Sarah’s case the if only is, if only He will save the life of her lover. And as the crisis passes and her greatest wish is granted, Sarah is not so keen on keeping her side of the bargain. Abraham Lincoln said that if you make a bad promise, don’t keep it—or something like that. And that’s the sort of response most of us have as our crisis ebbs and the emotion that triggered our hasty promise passes out of memory. Sarah, however, is not so fickle as the rest of us (and being British, doesn't have Abraham Lincoln to fall back on). For her, the only way out is to negate the contract by believing that God doesn’t exist. Maurice, too, is in a struggle with this God whom he adamantly but unconvincingly insists does not exist. Each is seeking a door to freedom that will open only if they succeed in denying His existence.
As is usually the case with classic reprints, the edition I read included an Introduction by a noted literary critic—in this case, author and university lecturer Michael Gorra. As has become my habit, I saved reading the Introduction for last—after I’d completed my read, when I would be equipped to agree and disagree and engage in a conversation-in-my-head.
In his Introduction, Gorra reveals that the mystical elements introduced as the story concludes were viewed as literary weaknesses by Greene himself in a later discussion of his work. The End of the Affair was highly autobiographical of ongoing events at the time of its writing. Apparently it would have been a quite different story had Greene written it with twenty-year hindsight. It’s power and value, though, are largely due to its immediacy. It is the story of a young man in the throes of Grand Passion, not the faded reflective vision of the older man looking back on his life.
This is a book for writers, lovers, those fleeing from the Hound of Heaven, even those chasing God. It ends in a resolution that is infrequently found in real life, which I will forego describing for the benefit of those few who have neither read the book nor any of the many commentaries on its plot. William Golding commented, “Graham Greene . . . will be read and remembered as the ultimate twentieth-century chronicler of consciousness and anxiety.” I’m not well-read enough to know if ultimate is an appropriate word choice, but I do agree that in The End of the Affair Greene has done a whopping good job of examining the angst and soul-searching so common to love gone wrong . . . with the added dimension of the common practice of questioning the existence of God when reality becomes too painfully real.
I picked this up at the charity shop because Matthew and I wanted to catch up with some 20th century classics. He read it first and enjoyed it. A short novel in which we follow the fortunes of Bendrix, Sarah, the woman he once loved but now claims to hate, and her husband, Henry. Narrated in flashbacks, the narrative voice reminded us both of Iris Murdoch, with the London setting adding to that for me. Powerful and perceptive, a close study of one man's state of mind and deeply atmosphericm with moments of pathos and humour - we could see why it's a classic.
because she thought Maurice had been killed in an air raid and made a bargain with God, in whom she does not believe, that if Maurice were spared she would give him up. Maurice was not in fact killed in the air raid. She does not explain her reasoning to Maurice, who is very bitter.
Two years later Maurice tells Henry, Sarah's husband, about the affair and sets a private detective to see who Sarah is now seeing. (She is serially unfaithful to Henry, with whom she has never had a sexual relationship.)
I didn't like any of the characters AT ALL ( except for maybe Henry) and their actions made no sense.
Author and professional misery guts Maurice Bendrix decides to write about his ill-fated union with a married woman, Sarah Miles, and starts his story 'at the end of the affair', two years later. Sarah describes herself as 'a bitch and a fake' who defines her life by sleeping around and drinking. She is married to Henry, a mild-mannered civil servant who she claims to love but isn't enough for her. When Bendrix - he is mostly known by his last name - decides to write about a civil servant, he picks on Miles for a character study, and questions Sarah about her husband. The two then start a mad passionate fling, which eventually turns into a destructive kind of love for both, until their love nest is hit by a V1 bomb during the Blitz. Sarah promises a God she doesn't believe in that she will leave Bendrix and go home to Miles if her lover miraculously survives the blast - and Bendrix lives, so Sarah walks away. That's the best part of the story over. After that, Bendrix, Sarah and even random secondary characters like crazy Richard Smythe, Sarah's spiritual consultant, spend most of the time talking or writing about what they do or don't believe in, regretting what they did or didn't do, and hoping to die.
There are some creative, thoughtful passages in this short novel, as well as a few sympathetic characters (narrator Bendrix, who makes me think of a depressed Archie Goodwin, is not one of them, but private detective Parkis and his trainee son are literary gems), but overall I didn't enjoy the weighty combination of angst and philosophy. One or the other, clearly labelled, would have been better.