The end of the affair

by Graham Greene

Paperback, 1999





New York ; London : Penguin, 1999.


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.

Media reviews

In "The End of the Affair" the splendidly stupid private detective, Alfred Parkis, and his apprentice son, and the maudlin grifter who is the heroine's mother, equal the best of the seedy supernumeraries of his other novels. It is savage and sad, vulgar and ideal, coarse and refined, and a rather accurate image of an era of cunning and glory, of cowardice and heroism, of belief and unbelief.
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Great romantic novels are about pain and hate, and among the greatest is Graham Greene's searing The End of the Affair. It is one of the most forensic and honest analyses of love you will ever read.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
Has there ever been a book that compelled you somehow to read it even though it's very different from what you usually enjoy? I was browsing a library booksale when I came across Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. The back cover told me that it was about adultery, a detailed account of the emotional and spiritual turmoil of a passionate affair. I put it back on the table, convinced it was one of those novels, a depressing foray into somebody's predictably boring angst. Cue eyeroll.

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.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This was my initial plunge into Graham Greene, and I have to say that I'm left somewhat unsatisfied. The writing itself is fine enough, and the bitter, cynical, obsessive cast-off lover, Bendrix, well drawn. But I found much of the story forced, unbelievable, as if the concept Greene wanted to get across overwhelmed the plot: lust begets love begets jealousy begets hatred begets faith.

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.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Author Maurice Bendrix narrates the story of his affair with a married woman named Sarah. It's a story of jealousy and hate, mixed with passion and heartbreak. Sarah mysteriously ends the affair one day during a blitz on London. Maurice is convinced that she has found a new lover. Her husband Henry is also worried about her and not knowing of their affair, he recruits Maurice to help him figure out what's wrong with his wife.

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."
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LibraryThing member Banoo
Bendrix loves Sarah. Bendrix hates Sarah. Sarah loves Bendrix. Sarah is married but doesn't love Henry. Sarah thinks she believes in God. Sarah loves God. Sarah Hates God. Sarah loves God. Bendrix doesn't believe in God. But Bendrix hates God. Bendrix Hates Henry. Bendrix thinks maybe there is a God. Bendrix hates himself. Bendrix hates Smythe. Bendrix loves Sarah...

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.
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
"This is not a book about love; this is a book about hate" is repeated about 800 times throughout this by its narrator. Yes, it is. In that I hated it.
LibraryThing member omame
My first Graham Greene- I have found a new author to fall in love with.
Staggering technique with an intuitive sensibility. Its beautiful melancholy lingers long after i finished the book.
LibraryThing member christinelstanley
Oh wow! This book is special; I read it in one day, ignoring everything else around me until the end. The pain and obsession conveyed powerfully and beautifully. I’ like Graham Green novels, but this was exceptional, in a class of it’s own. SIX stars
LibraryThing member pgchuis
I'm quitting this half way through (it seems to be my year of quitting books). Maurice and Sarah have an affair, and claim to love each other, although they don't act as though they do. Then Sarah breaks it off


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.
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LibraryThing member bookcrazed
The End of the Affair begins with a seemingly simple plot structured around the age-old moral questions posed by adultery and unwise love. The title itself prepares the reader for the affair, its ultimate end, and even somewhat for the emotions and events that circumscribe the affair. The narrative evolves, through a series of unexpected events, into a vehicle for questions about God and love and truth.

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.
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LibraryThing member abbeyhar
What a weird book. Very dark. I didn't expect the extremely religious turn, and wasn't sure what to make of it. I think that if smythe hadn't been cured,I would have just found it eerie, but it ended up ending on a slight preachy note instead. A good book about love and obsession and grief and where they can take us. I would like to read more by him, and to find out how much of this was fiction and how much was autobiographical. This review sucks… (more)
LibraryThing member greeniezona
It's hard to say when my relationship to this novel began. But let's begin with the list. My most recent goodreads project (I always have a project), has been tagging all the books from Bookslut's 100 Best Books of the 20th century. I don't remember how it started -- perhaps a question on Facebook from Bloomsbury Review about how often one read current books versus classics. And now here I am, butting heads agains the Bookslut 100 yet again (Why, oh why, did we ever decide to include plays?). But why did I fixate on this novel in particular? Perhaps it was Michael Schaub's enthusiastic review, it was also partly a residual effect from all those hours I spent pouring over the Eighth Day Books catalog in my early twenties. Whatever the reasons, they were strong enough to send me on a very directed mission to the bookstore in a torrential downpour.

This book did not disappoint.

It's one of those books that I have a hard time writing about intelligently. It's just too good. From the very first page I had that sensation of trust that comes from relaxing into a book that has been written by a master of the form. As the narrator, who is also a novelist, sets up the story, it is obvious both that Greene understands people and understands novels. But of course, if he didn't, he wouldn't have the reputation that he does, no would his works appear on so many lists of modern classics.

So, of course I don't aim to add to the scholarly discourse on this novel. My personal response: it was certainly interesting to read this story of religious conversion (and how religious love is entwined with romantic love) in the midst of my current estrangement from religion. Indeed, any moments of distance from this book I had were the result of trying to insert my current experience into the book to argue, which of course didn't work.

Despite that small dissonance, I was still blown away by this novel. I want to go to Eighth Day books and buy Greene's complete works. Except I'm not allowed to buy any more books until 2014. Drat.
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LibraryThing member hazelk
Although rather depressing the writing is good and that enabled me to finish this novel. In the extracts from Sarah's diary I thought that Greene occasionally forgot himself in that his authorial voice and style took over from Sarah's and thus made Sarah more intellectual in her self-analysis than I thought her capable of.

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.
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LibraryThing member kenkuhlken
A very strange book. The structure is complicated by shifts in time, the world view is awfully grim, and the point of view characters are introspective almost to a fault. But not quite to a fault. Greene wrote this one balancing on the edge of melodrama, and succeeded in writing a masterpiece. I can’t think of any work of literature that more clearly exposes the conflicts that haunt the human mind and heart.… (more)
LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
or as I like to call it: "Henry, His Wife, Her Lover, and God", this is a book that starts off feeling very film noir-ish, but ends up being a pretty good (though at times contrived and theoretical) look at religion. It delves into a lot of the same themes as O'Connor's "Wise Blood" (although in a much less zany way), and would make a good "double-feature" with that book.… (more)
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
Greene's prose is so insightful and yet easy to read. He packs so many worthwhile ideas into his concise prose (e.g., without desire, there is no jealousy). This novel captures the angst of an affair while also capturing the complexities of the characters involved and of the relationships among all three members of the love triangle (two male friends and the object of their shared desire). Truly masterful. Not a perfect 10 because I think the ending lags a bit, but almost a perfect 10.… (more)
LibraryThing member dom20
First book by Greene that I have read - I live near where most of the story is set - so it had added interest. I read the book on holiday and it was a wonderfully written insight into the human spirit, but also a moving story, where you really become engaged with the story and its characters. I will certainly be reading more of Greene… (more)
LibraryThing member kevinyezbick
Marcel Bendrix first met Sarah Miles while interviewing her husband Henry for the purposes of researching a civil servant character in his forthcoming novel. A dinner interview between the two leads to intimate indiscretions and an affair is soon born. It is some seven years later when a chance encounter in the street leads Bendrix back into the Miles' daily lives after a two year hiatus.

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.
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LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
From the first time I discovered that Graham Greene was a Catholic author, I wanted to check out his work. This was years and years ago, but it wasn't until The End of the Affair was marked down on that I finally took the plunge. What a waste of years! The End of the Affair is one of the best books I've ever read.

The story of Bendrix's affair with Sarah and its aftermath are so perfect, so true. Bendrix is never quite certain if his story is about love or hate, despair or hope. It is always one extreme or the other. When he believes his competition for Sarah's love is her husband or another man, he hates Sarah in his despair and wants to destroy her. He cannot bare not knowing what took her away. It stifles his art and eats him alive. When he ultimately learns the truth about the ending of their relationship, he is elated and at once certain that he can overcome it all.

Michael Kitchen narrated the audio version of this novel and he was no less than superb. This may sound odd (I think it's odd, but I'll share anyway), but the way Kitchen used his breath, particularly in exhaling, made it seem like Bendrix was in my car with me. We were having an intimate conversation. I could almost smell his tobacco. The effect was fantastic and could not have happened had Kitchen not been paired with such a gifted author. It was a wonderful way to first experience Graham Greene. If you've read The End of the Affair before and are hankering for a reread, I cannot recommend this audio version enough.

Even though I loved the audio, I found that I had to possess the book as well. A Kindle version just wouldn't do. I immediately turned around and bought the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of both The End of the Affair and, on Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog's suggestion, The Quiet American. As soon as they arrived, I hugged them to my chest. It felt so good and was nearly impossible for me to not start rereading The End of the Affair.

When I began reading The End of the Affair, I didn't know what to expect. What really surprised me was the ending would have a similar affect on me as Gone With the Wind. It was so open ended and I loved every possibility. I cannot rave about it enough. The End of the Affair has got to be the best book I've read since I started blogging. More Graham Greene, please. Wow!
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LibraryThing member MaryEvelynLS
Love and lust. Love and loss. Love and jealousy. Great short book.
LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
This book is an almost favorite. I don't know why I like sad novels but that's the main reason I love this, it just seems real. I also love the way Graham Greene connected love and hate and humans and God. A must read classic!
LibraryThing member Clurb
One of my favourite Greene's and one that I could happily reread for ever. Makes me feel warm and sentimental.
LibraryThing member siri51
First Greene book I have read - not very impressed; characters quite unbelievable (even if it is all based on his own affair with Catherine Walston) I stopped reading toward the end after Sarah had died, becasue she didn't believe in going to a doctor and kept running around in the rain with an awful cough.
LibraryThing member bohemima
Greene's writing is brilliant, as usual. The main character is odious. As the plot unfolds, the book becomes something of a polemic for R.C. values. Nevertheless, it repays the reader with a great experience.
LibraryThing member lakesidemusing
Thank you, Colin Firth.

Your voice added depth and meaning to a piece of literature which previously left me feeling profoundly indifferent. It's been ten years since I read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. My reaction at the time was one of total apathy - no connection, no sympathy, not so much as a trace of like or dislike toward any of the characters. Greene's prose elicited a similarly flat response.

However, listening to you read Greene's work was a very moving, albeit depressing, experience. So depressing, in fact, it took weeks to finish a short six and a half hour audiobook. (I put it aside several times to read something cheerier.) How did that feeling elude me in print?

Several weeks have passed, and I continue to think about an audiobook that left no lasting impression in print. As various passages come to mind, I marvel the sheer beauty of Greene's writing. I still don't care much for the story, but I can appreciate what Greene accomplished and will now consider reading more of his work.

This production is a testament to audiobooks and the power of the spoken word.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Victim of subliminal advertising that I am, when this book was summarised and discussed on Faulks on Fiction, replete with clips from the film adaptation with Julianne Moore, I was intrigued. However, I think the premise sounds better than the actual story. Or maybe I'm just too shallow to appreciate all the existentialist waffle that takes over midway through the novel.

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.
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