Perhaps I was just partial to reading Greene. I love reading his works. The End of the Affair, one of his 4 Catholic novels, is probably one of his best work. His writing has always been sublime. Greene wrote beautifully. I wouldn't want to call it lyrical, since there's minimal poetic elements in his book. What I admire was his gift of evoking mood and atmosphere. In The End of the Affair, set during World War II, I felt that the war played a crucial role in the decisions the main characters made in the book.
One would say that The End of the Affair only has 3 main characters. Maurice Bendrix, the writier who has a passionate affair with Sarah, the wife of an important British government official, Henry Miles. It is the affair of Maurice and Sarah who drives the novel toward its sad conclusion. From the start, the reader has a sense that the affair would have disastrous consequences on all 3 of them. Affairs are simply so un-Catholic.
So one day, Maurice and Sarah were making love in Maurice's apartment and a bomb goes off. Maurice becomes unconscious and Sarah discovers that he has died. In a panic, Sarah prays to God feverishly, saying that if God would let Maurice live, she'll leave him forever. Maurice lives and Sarah, against her wishes, must fulfill her side of the bargain. Of course, she doesn't mention this to Maurice who gets confused when Sarah takes all the pains to avoid him. Maurice eventually discovers the circumstances for Sarah's actions. When the two of them continue on with their affair, Sarah's health deteriorates and dies.
The 4th character in the novel is God. This is not the passive God, but rather the playful, wrathful God we've read in the Old Testament. His presence can be felt all throughout the book. In a way, he punishes Sarah for breaking the agreement with Him. And what better punishment there is than death? Maurice, the self-confessed atheist, is even forced to acknowledge His presence.
I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and walking there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.I mentioned that this novel had Catholic sensibilities, as Greene converted to Catholicism late in his life. Sarah, despite calling herself a bitch and a fake, becomes a saint or at least developed saint-like qualities. Her physical contact with two minor characters in the book proves to be miraculous. The element of rituals, which plays a huge role in the Catholic faith, abound in the book. Greene also delved into one of the main taboos of the religion -- adultery. Truly, only a wrathful God would think that death is only fitting for those who violate the seventh commandment.
I think that this is one of the most beautiful love stories that I've read. All right, I haven't read a lot, but The End of the Affair is a total departure from all the books that deal with romance, illicit relationships, and obsesssion. I say that it's brilliant. Who would have thought that a love story can involve a divine character. After all, it wasn't really Henry whom Maurice was competing against to win Sarah. It was God.
Read this book if:
- You'll read anything by Graham Greene.
- You're craving for a different love story.
- You loved the movie. (The book, as always, is better.)