Saturday, March 23, 2013

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

The narrator of The End of the Affair, novelist Maurice Bendrix, announces early in the book that "this is a record of hate, far more than of love." He tells us he hates Henry Miles, an acquaintance he runs into on the common one rainy night. He hates Henry's wife Sarah, and he hates God--or would if he believed in God.

But soon we learn that in fact Bendrix is jealous of Henry because he is married to Sarah, Bendrix's lover for four years before and during World War II. At the time they meet on the common, two years have passed since Sarah, without explanation, dropped Bendrix. The sight of Henry somehow rekindles in Bendrix his obsessive love for Sarah and, when he learns that Henry fears she is having an affair and has considered hiring a detective agency to follow her, Bendrix decides to hire the detective himself. The somewhat hapless detective (he at first believes he has photographed Sarah's lover, presenting Bendrix with pictures of himself, and he takes his 12-year-old son on surveillance with him) discovers that Sarah is indeed visiting a man's flat; the detective also manages to steal Sarah's journal.

Bendrix reads Sarah's journal and learns the reason that she ended the affair, despite the fact that she still loves him. He also discovers that Sarah is struggling with a growing belief in God--a discovery that leaves Bendrix completely nonplussed. From this point on, much of the narrative has to do with questions of faith and what it demands of the believer. A number of plot twists--some signaled in advance, some not--propel Bendrix towards a reaffirmation of his record of hate (I'll leave the twists for readers to discover for themselves).

Greene writes beautifully, and the narration by Colin Firth does the language justice. We spend so much of the book inside the head of the self-centered and oafish Bendrix that I occasionally became somewhat tired of his ruminations (and incredulous that anyone could fall in love with him), but not to the point where I wanted to stop listening.  I found Bendrix's reflections on his work as a writer some of the most enjoyable parts of the book, which overall I would recommend.

Favorite passage:
Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time, and sometimes it seemed to me that her abandonment touched that strange mathematical point of endlessness, a point with no width, occupying no space. What did time matter? . . . I never lose the consciousness of time. For me the present is never here. It is always last year or next week. . . . I couldn't forget and I couldn't not fear.

No comments:

Post a Comment