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The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

The End of the Affair (original 1951; edition 2003)

by Graham Greene

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3,918791,302 (4.01)244
Title:The End of the Affair
Authors:Graham Greene
Info:Vintage (2003), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:Greene Graham, tbr

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The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)

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Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Apparently people take this book to heart and project onto it their own personal turmoils. Nothing wrong with that. Here's my review from the perspective of a happily married man: this is some claustrophobic hot mess, which is a lot more to do with God than it is to do with a lover.
If you think the Heart of the Matter is incomprehensible to a non-believer - man paralyzed by a conflict between his love for a woman and his faith - this tops it by about three hundred degrees of incomprehensibility. I can't think of any author who so consistently tests my patience without making me lose it altogether, although I actually find it easier to suspend disbelief over Greene's religious books than some of his non-religious books (England Made Me, I'm looking at you). I can't put my finger on why, and it might even make the books more interesting, but there's a point in all his books when I think oh, c'mon now. Isn't it all just a little too pat?
Anyway, I suggest you read this while in the throes of a passionately failing relationship, with your lady/gentleman friend or the Big Guy Above. Otherwise, I think I'd rather re-read The Quiet American. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I can see why some people love this book. But, as a person who reads for entertainment first and growth/reflection/self-improvement second, it was an exercise in endurance. It falls firmly in the literary category of brussels sprouts - good for you but not terribly palatable. What started as somewhat amusing self-awareness, by the end had reached a crescendo of self-pitying, hateful, whining that made me want to beat my head against the wall. Had I been reading a bound copy rather than listening on audio, I almost certainly would have either abandoned it or started skimming the text to get to the end faster. But on audio, Colin Firth's delicious, delicious voice buttered it enough to let me clean my plate. ( )
  PortM | Nov 30, 2013 |
I keep thinking about this book--even now, weeks after I read it. I am tempted to bump my review up to five stars. I'm so stingy with five star reviews--I give them out so sparingly, but this book is at least a 4.5. It's lodged itself into my brain.

Confession: If this is obsession, I have been obsessed fairly often. ( )
  tercat | Nov 19, 2013 |
"I wrote at the start this was a record of hate." Hate, love, God, relationships, are all very much a part of this intensely personal and intriguing book. (The movie with Ralph Fiennes is terrific.) Several sources have suggested that the book is partially autobiographical and that Sarah is loosely based on Greene's affair with Catherine Walston (there is a book entitled The Third Woman about the two of them.)

Major players:

Maurice, the narrator, is not very likable, and one cannot help wondering how his viewpoint colors our perception of events. He's insanely jealous of Henry and anyone else Sarah seems to show some interest in. He suspects -- we don't know for sure if this is true or not -- that Sarah is having other affairs. He claims to be atheist, yet blames God for many of the events.

Sarah is the bored or at least unhappy wife of Henry, a British civil servant, who seems to love Sarah (virtually everyone in the book does). She falls desperately (a very appropriate word) in love with Maurice, a writer, who seems to be equally in love with her. I'm a little unclear as to how much of his love is narcissistic. (I'm still unclear about a lot of this book, but that's what makes it so good.) She makes a vow to God to end the affair if Maurice survives the bombing (I think we are supposed to believe she thinks he's dead, which has resurrection overtones that bugged the hell out of me.) She laterrenegs on the promise and resumes her affair with Maurice. (In the movie they spend a wonderful week in Brighton together.)

Henry, the aforementioned bureaucrat, may be the least appreciated of the characters. He really wants Sarah to be happy, to the point where he appears (from Maurice's point of view, anyway) to condone her affair with Maurice. He asks Maurice to live with him after Sarah's death, an invitation that strikes me as more than peculiar, but he's a weak individual. If there's an unselfish love, it's Henry's.

While I very much liked the book, and it reflects perhaps Greene's own struggles with Catholicism, I, unlike most people, I suspect, thought it made a mockery of Sarah's sudden faith. When a bomb strikes the house they are in, she believes Maurice might have been killed and prays to God that if he is allowed to live, she will never see him again. He survives and she breaks off the affair, only to have it resume two years later, just before her death from pneumonia, a death that the doctor says might have been prevented had it been treated sooner. She says at one point "I fell into belief the way I fell into love." Now that to me mocks either belief or love. And since I thought this was one of the great love stories, I chose to believe it's a mockery of belief.

I was puzzled and left empty by a lack of foreplay, oops, Freudian slip, rather the lack of development of their relationship. It seemed to come from left field, without much preparation. I missed that, but, again, we are viewing the world through limited lenses and from a man who writes that "happiness is boring." All the clues we have about Maurice come from himself and what little we find in Sarah's stolen journal.

Something I definitely did not like and thought superfluous was the attribution to Sarah of some miracles or sudden cures, as if she somehow were made "holy" by her recognition of her sinful behavior. Fortunately, the movie only touches on these and is the stronger for it. I felt the entire section after her death should have been run through the shredder. Smyth's "cleansing" was a bit much. This attempt to make Sarah saintly was a puzzle. I don't see the point at all. (And now that Benedict is thinking of canonizing Pius XII it really has me confused.).

There are some really good reviews of this book elsewhere on Goodreads (Jen's is outstanding) but I quibble with one of her comments regarding the characters having their disbelief, if you will, weakened and moved toward some kind of faith. I saw it very differently. Bendrix is angry and his hate is directed toward Sarah's mistaken belief in something that could not exist and which ruined their attempt at happiness. (Bendrix has lots of narcissistic and selfish issues of his own, but aside from that...)

I continue to wonder if books like this don't reflect an ennui peculiar to the rich middle class. Only they have the time and money to be bored in such an existential way

Some people, I suspect. might have their faith strengthened by reading this book. My lack of faith was fortified. Bendrix's last line spoken to a God he does not believe in (oh, really?) is "Leave me alone forever." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Whereas I really enjoyed the love story from the start with Bendrix's bitterness and undisguised jealousy, I had a hard time believing Sarah's sudden religiousness - it seemed too childish, this funny bargain with God, to be taken seriously. I was disappointed with the ease with which Greene would get away from a real discussion over God and almost gave up at the predictability of Sarah's death.
The book, however, really picked up at that point. The unlikely friendship between Henry and Bendrix, the slow influence of the Church over the story and Smythe's curious recovery all culminated to a brilliant finish: as far away from the beginning as could possibly be thought. In the end, atheism and religion come head to head, neither being conclusive, but with a hint of magic which reinforces the question... very adroit.
A seemingly simple book, but one whose construction deserve minute attention. ( )
  Cecilturtle | Sep 28, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
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.
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.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Greeneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Firth, ColinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence.
Leon Bloy
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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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0142437980, Paperback)

Set in London during and just after World War II, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair is a pathos-laden examination of a three-way collision between love of self, love of another, and love of God. The affair in question involves Maurice Bendrix, a solipsistic novelist, and a dutifully married woman, Sarah Miles. The lovers meet at a party thrown by Sarah's dreary civil-servant husband, and proceed to liberate each other from boredom and routine unhappiness. Reflecting on the ebullient beginnings of their romance, Bendrix recalls: "There was never any question in those days of who wanted whom--we were together in desire." Indeed, the affair goes on unchecked for several years until, during an afternoon tryst, Bendrix goes downstairs to look for intruders in his basement and a bomb falls on the building. Sarah rushes down to find him lying under a fallen door, and immediately makes a deal with God, whom she has never particularly cared for. "I love him and I'll do anything if you'll make him alive.... I'll give him up forever, only let him be alive with a chance.... People can love each other without seeing each other, can't they, they love You all their lives without seeing You."

Bendrix, as evidenced by his ability to tell the story, is not dead, merely unconscious, and so Sarah must keep her promise. She breaks off the relationship without giving a reason, leaving Bendrix mystified and angry. The only explanation he can think of is that she's left him for another man. It isn't until years later, when he hires a private detective to ascertain the truth, that he learns of her impassioned vow. Sarah herself comes to understand her move through a strange rationalization. Writing to God in her journal, she says:

You willed our separation, but he [Bendrix] willed it too. He worked for it with his anger and his jealousy, and he worked for it with his love. For he gave me so much love, and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn't anything left, when we'd finished, but You.
It's as though the pull toward faith were inevitable, if incomprehensible--perhaps as punishment for her sin of adultery. In her final years, Sarah's faith only deepens, even as she remains haunted by the bombing and the power of her own attraction to God. Set against the backdrop of a war-ravaged city, The End of the Affair is equally haunting as it lays forth the question of what constitutes love in troubling, unequivocal terms. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:39 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Maurice Bendrix is a sardonic and cynical writer who reflects on his affair with Sarah, a married woman, during the bombing of London in 1940.

(summary from another edition)

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