For the Classics Club Spin, I got Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. I was pretty happy with that result, as I had wanted to read Greene for a while now. The book did not disappoint. How can you resist a story that states early on that it is “a record of hate far more than of love”?
It is the story of a peculiar love triangle. Henry and Sarah are married, but there is little passion in their marriage. So Sarah begins an affair with Maurice Bendrix, a writer. It is easy for them to deceive Henry. Maurice is extremely jealous, and he picks fights with Sarah to prove to himself that his jealousy is not unfounded. Then Sarah suddenly breaks off all contact with Maurice, and he doesn’t hear from her again until two years later, when he unexpectedly runs into Henry and finally finds out why Sarah ended the affair. To give away more of the plot would make this book sound much more melodramatic than it actually is.
At first, I found it peculiar that the predominant emotions in a story about a love triangle are negative. There is hate, jealousy, and desperation, and the conflict between the characters runs deep. But underlying all this is each character’s search for love. As unlikeable as I found Maurice, Sarah, and Henry, I still felt for and with them, which was not something I expected when I first started reading.
The focus of the second half of the book shifts towards the question of faith. It becomes clear that not only are the three main characters searching for love, they are also searching for a meaningful relationship with a God whose existence they feel cannot be proven beyond doubt. This is where I think the novel moves beyond the melodramatic. The struggle with faith provides a grand backdrop to the struggle with love. Both faith and love can be messy affairs, but most people are unable to live without either.
Greene’s style is realistic and artless, and I quite enjoyed reading this novel. For a short book, it packed quite a punch. While it will not become one of my favorite books, it is engaging and made me think.