My Classics Club Spin: The End of the Affair

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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.

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24 comments

  1. I have this book in my TBR and your review leaves me keen to read it. Would it suit a book group, do you think? I’ve had in on my possibilities-for-discussion pile for a while. Great review.

    • I would recommend it for a book group. Between the characters, some unusual decisions, and the somewhat unreliable narrator, there’s plenty to discuss. And, if nothing else, if people don’t have time to read the book, they can watch the movie, which people seem to agree is very good. 🙂

  2. I too have only read this novel by Greene and liked it much more than I thought I would. I was quite surprised about the reasons for the break-up.
    I’ve collected a few of his novels by now. Brighton Rock is said to be very good. But I’d also like to read Our Man in Havnna and The Comedians.
    I liked the movie version of The End of the Affair but I really loved the movie they made of The Quiet American.

  3. I’ve never been particularly interested in Graham Greene, but your description makes me want to pick this up. I wonder how the Neil Jordan film was (depicted on your book cover)?

  4. I love Graham Greene, and you’ve reminded me to add a re-read or two to the TBR. For me, the three best are The Power and the Glory, The Comedians and one of my favourite books of all time – The Heart of the Matter. I came across him first at school when The Comedians was a prescribed book…showing that just occasionally the educators get it right! 😉

  5. Graham Greene can be really interesting, especially his political novels. I’m not sure I would call him “artless,” though, in any meaning of the word. Subtle, maybe.

  6. Thanks for the great review! I have read Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” and found it intriguing. I read “Brighton Rock” a long time ago and don’t remember much about it. I think I now want to read “The End of the Affair” next.

  7. I listened to this one a few years ago (narrated by Colin Firth) and enjoyed it but feel like I need to read it in order to really dig under the surface. Glad it didn’t disappoint for you! And if you’re ever looking to revisit it, I thought the audio was great.

  8. This is still the first and only book I’ve read by Graham Greene, but I had a lot of the same feelings you do. I remember feeling as if I didn’t like many of the characters, but somehow I was still rooting for them. I also found the turn toward religion in the second half kind of surprising, but I ended up finding a lot to like in those sections. I do want to read more from him — I think Brighton Rock or Heart of the Matter might be next on my list!

  9. Graham Greene is one of those writers that I have wanted to read, but haven’t gotten around to it. This one sounds like a good one to start with. The statement that it is a “record of hate far more than love” does make me want to know more!

    • I think I might have read Greene’s The Quiet American in college, but I don’t remember for sure. This one, I am pretty sure, I will remember, so I’d say it’s a good introduction to his writing.

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