The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Many moons ago, while working at Books Etc. in Solihull as a Sunday job to support my studies (without doubt the best retail job I have ever had, by the way), I picked by a cheap edition of this book. I can’t remember if it was recommended, if I was sold by the front cover or I just liked the synopsis, but I picked it up very cheaply and then put it on my bookshelf and left it there for about seven years before picking it up and deciding to read it, for whatever reason, in 2010, just before I came to Honduras. Maybe it was the name of the book, because even though it does describe the book perfectly, it has a bit of “Mills & Boon” about the title. To those who’ve read it will tell you that it is everything but Mills & Boon, even though they contain similar plot elements and topics, such as love and obsession. This is just a lot, lot, lot more deeper (I’m expecting to be haunted by Graham Greene just for mentioning his name in the same sentence as Mills & Boon; quite literally a haunting from the literature Gods).
Talking of God, The End of the Affair holds much resonance for me because, if you don’t know much about the book or the writer, there is much ado about Catholicism and the sacred vows of marriage, which played a lot on my mind especially in the run up to my Catholic Baptism and getting married this year. All the books I have picked are intense in their own particular way. This is much gut-wrenching emotion, touching on morality and obsession and jealousy (“I measured love by the extent of my jealousy”) and secrecy and sacrifice, but I will try not to focus too much on that to not leave any spoilers. I admit, when I read it, I wasn’t Catholic but this book made me, I suppose, lean to it in some subconscious way. The book is not what Greene would have called one of his comedies, such as Our Man in Havana, which is a pleasant read too by the way (funnily enough, Greene also ended up in Latin America later in life, setting his books in Mexico and Argentina, as well as Cuba), but this very personal piece stirs up a rising melachony in one’s gut and empathy for the vexed and angry soul that belongs to Maurice Bendrix. Maurice Bendrix is Graham Green and Sarah Miles is Catherine Walston and, as you can probably gather from the title, it is about affair based largely on Graham Greene’s own romance with a woman with the above name, and to whom the book is dedicated.
It is set during and after the Second World War in London, with the blitz playing a big role in the proceedings. Maurice Bendrix meets Sarah Miles, the wife of an impotent, amiable, but ultimately boring civil servant named Henry. They quickly fall in love, but he soon realises the affair will end as quickly as it began when she refuses to divorce Henry, making the relationship suffer due to his overt and admitted jealousy. A bomb blasts Bendrix’s flat while he is with Sarah, nearly killing him. After this, Sarah breaks off the affair with no apparent explanation. I will say no more.
Apart from The Savage Detectives, all my favourite books have been made into movies or TV series. This isn’t too much of a surprise as the movie industry more often than not leans on literature for plots and ideas, just as many poor writers lean on the movie industry to dream about massive pay-checks and seeing their work become “a major motion picture.” The End of the Affair must have struck accord with many though, as it brought two movies to the surface. I don’t know if they’re any good, were a commercial success or how loyal they are to the book (apparently Julianne Moore was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance). There has also been a opera, strangely enough, and Colin Firth apparently narrated on the audiobook. Funnily enough, due to Colin Firth’s serious but glum demeanor, he fits the Maurice Bendrix character like a glove to a hand. Imagine him saying the following:
“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.”
The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
To hear dear old Colin reading, give this link a spank: Audio book clip of The End of the Affair
It is a book that makes you wary of love, the tragedy it can cause, as well as the bonds we make with God having survived life’s hardships, the salvation that faith can bring you. I’ve seen in so much in real life, from street kids to refugees to once athiest friends who suddenly change over night. Graham Greene converted to Catholicism after this book and the subject returned in many of his works, most notably Power & the Glory, which I aim to read soon. I can’t remember if I sobbed at the book, but it has given me an everlasting respect for it, and the writer, Graham Greene.
I leave with a quote from the book that will always remain with me, for life advice.
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene