I’ll start this off by saying I pirated this book. I usually buy all of my audio books from Audible, but The End of the Affair isn’t offered in Canada. Licensing issues I’m guessing, which is something that occasionally plagues us here. I’d been itching to read a Graham Greene book for quite some time, and the chance to have Colin Firth narrate it was too tempting to pass up. I blame Canadian licensing restrictions for forcing me into a life of crime.
Maurice Bendrix is a writer in London during the Second World War. While researching a novel about a civil servant, he spends some time with Sarah Miles, the wife of a man in an important position within the government,. The relationship quickly turns into a heated affair. She eventually leaves Bendrix months later, without a real explanation (apart from the little fact that she’s married, I suppose), and he’s left wondering what happened.
Two years after their last meeting (and where the novel begins), Bendrix encounters her husband Henry Miles. He is distraught and is suspicious that Sarah isn’t being faithful. He brings up the idea of a private investigator, but decides to not pursue it after he’s had a few drinks. He has already planted the seed in Bendrix’s mind, however, and he hires someone himself to discover her new lover.
I hate you, God. I hate you as though you actually exist.
When I read this was one of Graham Greene’s “Catholic novels”, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was worried it would become very preachy, or wrap up with a statement on morality, something along those lines. I was pleasantly surprised by it being a fairly complex look at how religion plays a part in different people’s lives. There are characters who believe out of fear, characters who begrudgingly believe but hate God, characters who don’t believe and still hate God, characters who are indifferent. Many views change throughout the novel, and none of it felt ham-fisted or superficial. It was an interesting look at the struggle some people have with faith, particularly for the time period it was written in.
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.
Bendrix is a complete asshole, but in a really fascinating way. He is unapologetic about the whole affair, and looks down on Henry with contempt for being so weak as to allow this to happen. He seems to feel no regret, excluding some mistakes he may have made with Sarah, but is still oddly self-aware in a way. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I loved reading from his viewpoint. Many books have characters who are somewhat reprehensible, but to have it be the single point of view character in your novel is a very ballsy move. And it works. You feel for all of the characters, those who are true victims and also those who appear to be the bully.
Suddenly I realized she was asleep. […] The slowly growing pain in my upper arm where her weight lay was the greatest pleasure I had ever known.
It’s a story about love and hate and how those feelings can become intertwined. It’s beautifully written and Colin Firth does an amazing job in the audio version. I could see Graham Greene becoming one of my favourite authors if his other books are of a similar quality, and I’ll certainly be listening to any of the books Firth narrates.