Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why don't people like you as much I do?

This weekend, my book club met and discussed Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I've read it a year ago and I loved it. To say that I was looking forward to the discussion would be an understatement. If there's one book that I was really eager to discuss, this would be it. Imagine my surprise at the end of the discusion when I was only one among 3 who thought that the book was brilliant. The rest, around 12 of them, think that the book wasn't "good enough."

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:
  1. You'll read anything by Graham Greene.
  2. You're craving for a different love story.
  3. You loved the movie. (The book, as always, is better.)
Oh, and here's a picture of me with my Graham Greene books. I just love those Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions!

16 comments:

Tina said...

Interesting! You had me at "Catholic novel". I find it hard to look for something like that. But maybe I am not just looking hard enough.

Mike said...

Hi Peter, don't fret so much about it. The reason not everyone thought it rocked their literary world is because we at FFP have different literary tastes. I know the feeling especially when you discuss a favorite book to mixed reactions. See you at the Christmas party!

artseblis said...

I may not have liked the book but I loved the discussion!

The appreciation of a book is influenced significantly by the reader's experiences, temperament, and biases, isn't it? I believe the group was able to recognize the TEOFTA's exceptional literary merits but was just unimpressed by its subject. Infidelity and obsessive love on their own were not very interesting for the majority. Maybe many of us were genre readers? Or maybe the group was composed primarily of individuals with a very pragmatic take on love and hate?

Or maybe we didn't like the book simply because it did not have a happy ending.

Possibly, if the book was discussed in a classroom the feedback would have been kinder and more positive. The group would have exerted extra effort to see beyond reading preferences.

Evanescence said...

I'm afraid, I had to skim some of the review, as I've taken the book out of my local library, but still not read it! But I have enjoyed other Graham Greene books, A Gun for Sale and The Ministry of Fear, but I've struggled with a number of them. I hope to find more Greene books that I enjoy.

Peter S. said...

@Tina: Oh, those are just some of the few vague category to refer to Greeene's novels that have predominantly Catholic themes.

@Mike: Oh, right! I recall I didn't like High Fidelity that much either, and you were the one who moderated the discussion!

@artseblis: Very insightful! Yes, I would have to agree. There are several FFP members who are genre readers.

@Evanescence: You should also read The Heart of the Matter, which I think is his best work.

orly.agawin said...

oh! I sooo love this novel. read it when i was in 3rd year HS, and gave me a sense of Karma everytime i cheat (quiet ah!)

seriously, i say that the narrative is a bit too poetic, but it's Greene!

the concept and theme, as written during an era when conservatism was battling with modernism, can be tagged as pretentious and a bit preachy.

pero love ko pa rin siya! conservative ako 'e!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Orly! Yes, Greene played the Catholic guilt in the novel. I love Greene! You should've gone to the discussion and rallied for the book! Hehehe.

Evanescence said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I've checked my local library online, and they have The End of the Affair on audio book (CD) and I might try that instead of reading it.

martine said...

Thanks for your review, I read Travels with my Aunt recently which I very much enjoyed, and this one sounds utterly different and your enthusiasm for the book makes it sounds really interesting, I think I will seek it out.
thanks for sharing
martine

Peter S. said...

@Evanescence: Good idea. Then after, you can check out the movie as well. It's faithful to the book.

@martine: You're welcome!

Stepford Mum said...

I have a friend who should love this too, Peter. One of her top ten books is Brideshead Revisited, something I really want to read.

For the record, I would have made the 4th in your minority who think TEOTA is brilliant.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! I also loved Brideshead Revisited. Actually, I love all of Evelyn Waugh's works!

lyzacruz88 said...

Hi Peter! I really admire your fondness for books and reading :)

See yah on Friday!

Peter S. said...

@lyzacruz88: Wow! I believe this is your first comment ever! All right! See you!

Hydriotaphia said...

Usually films of books are fairly unfaithful to the text but in the case of 'The end of the Affair' this is not so.

There's also a film adaption of Greene's 'Brighton Rock' set in the 60's coming out in 2011. Just thought you might like to know, that's all !

Peter S. said...

Hi, Hydriotaphia! I know! I love the movie too!

And yes, I'm excited for Brighton Rock the movie too!