My online bookclub read Graham Greene‘s masterful The End of the Affair. I love how he makes Christian theology and faith real and meaningful to his characters – even nonbelievers. I’m impressed that he can make unlikeable people engaging despite their flaws. He captures Bendrix, the narrator, Sarah (the wife/mistress), Henry (the cuckolded husband) and the priest and the atheist preacher in such a way that you feel that God really does love them and us when we’re so flawed.
Here are some more thoughts:
I read this book years ago, but don’t remember how long ago. I now realize that it’s a book for mature readers, or one that the over 30 (maybe 35) crowd must get much better than young adults.
I loved how Greene writes from the point of view of an ordinary man, i.e. not a monster or villain, but a middle class, educated man who must seem quite normal to all around him and how he fills this man with self-acknowledged, un adulterated hate. It’s bold and honest. My guess is few if any writers today would deal with such a strong emotion without overdoing it or making the character implausible.
I loved how theology is absolutely in the water, air and earth of this world. The characters, all non-believers for most of the book, grapple with sophisticated ideas about God in a deep, unflinching way. Again this is bold and I don’t see it much in the modern era. I wonder how an atheist would take this book. Many seem to like their Christians to be simple-minded, superstitious fools (straw men) and a good many of us just don’t fit that mold. Since Greene carefully chose his characters’ traits and background I wonder who his imagined audience was. Was he trying to show non-believers the Christian God more so than to write for “the choir”?
I thought the writing was so masterful and the phrasing strong and riveting. That made the book a “quick” read, while there were also several passages I underlined and hope to remember or come back to.
There is amazing power and significance in a love story with a “sad” ending. (Yet is the break up of an affair sad? I think Greene would say no. I’d agree.) Because we have so few stories that have the courage to take this route, readers and viewers don’t get to experience this catharsis and emotion. It’s quite sophisticated to have an audience experience a character walking away from a relationship. The marketers don’t understand that they’re stunting American audiences’ emotional growth by mainly (only) giving us stories that provide the happy endings that young people crave. I just showed one of my classes Once, a film where the couple doesn’t wind up together. It’s a beautiful, compelling story, rather noble actually.
I’ve been digging around the internet and found some articles on the book. I’m plowing through one scholarly article that looks at desire and desire. It’s quite erudite so it’s slow reading, but I think it’s worth it. I’ll offer more insights soon.
There’s a recorded version of the book with Colin Firth as the narrator, which should be worthwhile and there’s a fairly recent movie that changed the ending, which I won’t bother with.