Book Review: The End Of The Affair

The End Of The Affair, by Graham Greene

Although my thoughts on adultery are rather pointed [1], this is a book that manages to be deeply worthwhile in large part because of its unceasing honesty about the people at its core.  If not a novel that celebrates adultery, it is certainly a novel that is filled with honest reflections about it and one that does not glamorize either the sin or the appeal of the forbidden that is part of the reason for its ubiquity.  Yet while this book is thankfully not a glamorous one, at the same time it is a work that comes from the author’s own complicated perspective.  Indeed, this novel may politely be called semi-autobiographical or even barely fictional.  Whether or not that is a good thing to the reader depends on their own abilities to relate to the main characters involved, even if none of them are necessarily very appealing.  I should say at least that I don’t find any of the characters in this entire novel entirely appealing–probably the private investigator is most appealing of all, but he’s clearly a secondary character–but others will likely feel differently based on who they can relate to.

This short novel of about 200 pages is surprisingly complicated given its short length.  The novel begins when the narrator Maurice Bendrix, a writer who is clearly a stand-in for the author, meets up with Henry, the husband of Bendrix’ former paramour Sarah, and Henry is distraught over Sarah being gone so often and expresses a wish to find out what she is about after getting drunk while lonely.  Some time later Bendrix, filled with jealousy over the fact that Sarah ghosted on him some two years earlier during the blitz, and hires Parkis, a private investigator, to find out the truth.  He does, and Bendrix ends up meeting Sarah again and trying to rekindle the flames.  She declines and soon finds herself romantically dead of consumption after Bendrix has read through her diary and found out her side of the story, where Sarah shows herself to be rather self-critical of her role in making him unhappy by being a fake and a b****, in those words.  After that there is more drama as the question of Sarah being buried as a Catholic or cremated as an agnostic becomes debated among Sarah’s surviving friends and families, all of which points to the complexities of her identity and character.

Overall, all of the characters are themselves all pretty deeply flawed and filled with self-loathing even if not necessarily a great deal of thoughtful repentance.  The author’s own moral complexity given his work in the OSS, the fact that the novel is closely related to his own adulterous relationship with a woman much like Sarah, and his own Catholicism likely influences this work to a great degree.  Even the cuckholded Henry, who shows little interest in his wife’s emotional life or even his own, is not a very appealing figure overall.  As a result, this novel is complex both morally and in terms of its structure, with flashbacks as well as considerable ambiguity, and filled with characters with a high degree of self-loathing and even obsessive reflectiveness and self-absorption.  If this is a mature novel, it is mature in the sense of someone who has wallowed in sin recognizing the high price to be paid for it in terms of happiness both on earth and in the world to come, and while this is not a book that is filled with very likable characters, it is at least a book that comes with some sort of willingness to face up to one’s sins and faults and own up to them.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Love & Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Book Review: The End Of The Affair

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Confidential Agent | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Brighton Rock | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Man Within My Head | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: The Devil Inside | Edge Induced Cohesion

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