Thursday, November 15, 2012

The End of the Affair

When I heard about Colin Firth reading Graham Greene's The End of the Affair over on Lakeside Musing, I knew that I had to listen to this book.  I hadn't read anything by Greene despite hearing that his writing was excellent and his themes interesting.  I contacted my library and they couldn't get a copy but provided a link to which enabled me to download it for free!

The writing is excellent, and I absolutely loved listening to Colin Firth read to me, but the story itself left me a bit disappointed.  In a nutshell, The End of the Affair is about the end of an affair between Maurice Bendrix, novelist, and Sarah Miles, wife of a friend of Bendrix.  They began the affair in 1939 on the eve of WWII and she broke it off in 1944.  Bendrix narrates the story from 1946, when Sarah comes back in to his life. 

Here's the book description on Amazon:
This is a record of hate far more than of love," writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles—a hate bred of a passion that ultimately lost out to God.

Now, a year after Sarah's death, Bendrix seeks to exorcise the persistence of passion by retracing its course from obsessive love to love-hate. At the start he believes he hates Sarah and her husband, Henry. By the end of the book, Bendrix's hatred has shifted to the God he feels has broken his life but whose existence he has at last come to recognize.

Originally published in 1951, The End of the Affair was acclaimed by William Faulkner as "for me one of the best, most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody's language."
I have to disagree with Faulkner.  I found the story to be contrived rather than true.  The End of the Affair is one of Greene's "Catholic" novels in which Catholicism plays a major role, and so perhaps this was not the best first Greene novel for me to read as I found it read more like a parable than a truely believable story that goes to the heart of the human condition. 

I didn't see either Bendrix or Sarah as fully realized characters, and Sarah was really shadowy. She acted in a way that was completely incomprehensible to me and I didn't much care for either major character, though I found the wronged husband, Henry, to be more believeable and sympathetic than either of the others.

Nevertheless the writing is gorgeous as is Firth's reading of it...


  1. I wish I'd listened to Colin Firth reading this book! I agree about the writing, but really cannot say that I 'enjoyed' this book. Greene was a convert to Roman Catholicism, but the doubts about belief and the depth of criticism of Christianity both surprised and interested me, more than the question of the affair. For me the plot was unsatisfactory and I didn't particularly like any of the characters

    The only other book by Greene that I've read is 'England Made Me', which I read whilst taking Open University courses. I wouldn't recommend it, though, as I found it very forgettable.

  2. I have not read this but your commentary is terrific!

    Interesting what you wrote about believability and the ilack of comprehensibility of some of the characters. For me, some types of fiction do not need to be believable, especially if plausibility is not the authors goal. However, other types of stories hinge on believability. This kind of book sounds like the lack of credibility would seriously mar the reading experience.

  3. Excellent post! I totally agree with your assessment of this novel. It was my first Graham Greene, but I'm not sure when/whether there will be a second. Colin Firth, as expected, was amazing.

  4. As much as I liked this one, I'd have to say I disagree with Faulkner. And there's a guy I would think would know a great book; I love his stuff.

  5. I've been meaning to read this one. I bet Firth was great.

  6. *swooonn* i'm going to have to get this!