The End of the Affair - Graham Greene "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."