This is my third Greene and has I think, cemented my admiration for this author forever. It is his writing that I love first. It feels as if Greene rolls every word around in his mouth before carefully placing them down on the paper before him. He writes with all the delicate craft of a sculptor, chipping and polishing away so that there are no superfluous words or phrases. Each scene is carefully layered and there are so many parts I wish now I hate noted down. This book begs to be re-read just so I can appreciate it all again.
It is narrated by Maurice Bendrix who is an author and through the book he reflects on the process of his writing and the difficulties with it that he has especially during and after the affair. The is a strange kind of consciousness in it – as if Greene himself is discussing writing the book whilst writing it himself.
The End of the Affair is one of the novels where Catholicism plays a main part. In the two other books I have read – Brighton Rock and The Quiet American religion has played an important or elemental part in the story. Rather then portraying characters of staunch faith however, they may be atheists, almost contemptuous of God’s existence. The struggle with doubt and the temptation of sin play important roles within his novels.
Another theme that runs through these three books is obsessive, almost destructive love. In Brighton Rock Pinkie marries Rose because he thinks she has seen something that might incriminate him. Rose shows him devotional love despite how unkind he is to her. Thomas Fowler from The Quiet American is rather pathetically in love with Phuong, perhaps as a means to cling onto youth and usefulness. In The End of the Affair it is Maurice Bendrix’s jealousy that infects his love.
An interesting parallel in The End of the Affair, is that Bendrix as an author is described to be like a God in his ability to create a world and characters, pushing them around the storyboard and being able to change them at his will. Sarah also refers to Bendrix throughout their affair as ‘You’ with the capitalisation. At the heart of this book is the struggle between faith and doubt – mortal and immortal love.
I am not a religious person and you don’t have to be to enjoy this book. Greene is simply a very good writer who is not pretentious and it doesn’t feel as if he tries to be literary. He has a strong voice and an independent style of writing – a confident writer who knows his craft well. That’s what I admire about Graham Greene. Some authors just have it, some authors have to try to have it. Greene has got it.
Also, as a classic I think that it will still resonate with people today – Greene is able to tap into the human heart and in the end – society may have changed a lot but as people, we are all the same and so the range of emotions, the kinds of characters that you meet in this book will still be entirely relevant today and tomorrow and hopefully in the next hundred years.
A word of warning to those who read the Vintage edition of this book with the introduction by Monica Ali. I know you are not supposed to read Introductions first so I consciously avoided reading it but I couldn’t help but glance past the giant clanger of a spoiler that is the very first sentence. I wouldn’t say it ruined the book for me at all because it is not a book with a massive plot and so there is not much really to spoil. You read it for the writing and the deeply human characters. it however took away from me the experience of discovery, mystery and hope that I would have liked for myself.
Thank you Monica Ali, from the bottom of my heart. Just watch me throw Brick Lane to the very bottom of my TBR pile. That is a rather lame revenge but there you go. I’m sure I’ll forgive her.