I posted earlier about obtaining this book as it came highly recommended by Middle Child, who stated it was the best book she had read and desperately sad. As I have a few Greenes (not Virago ones!) on my shelf ready to read I thought I should add a copy of this and after finishing “Dusty Answer”, I thought this might be a nice contrast.

According to Wikipedia:

The End of the Affair (1951) is a novel by British author Graham Greene. Set in London during and just after World War II, the novel examines the obsessions, jealousy and discernments within the relationships between three central characters: writer Maurice Bendrix; Sarah Miles; and her husband, civil servant Henry Miles.

However, I’m writing this review with a little trepidation, as I really didn’t seem to get on with the book at all. The three main characters listed above seemed to me to be very much cardboard cut-outs. I found no real depth or substance in them, and it’s not so much that I disliked them, more that there wasn’t really anything there to feel emotion about. Bendix, the narrator, is a writer and not a particularly nice person, coming across as selfish and riddled with jealousy. Sarah his lover is very insubstantial – we only learn bits about her background towards the end of the novel, but I felt I didn’t really get much of a sense of what she was like as a person, why she was like she was, what really motivated her. Poor cuckolded Henry seemed to me very much a caricature of a stodgy civil servant.

By Bassano ltd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, accepting the characters as they were portrayed, I could have gone along happily enough with the story of a jealous love affair suddenly ended, the anguish of Maurice without Sarah, wondering what the reason for the split was, if the book had simply concentrated on this. But instead huge sections of the book consisted of theological debate and argument and I ended up feeling as if the characters and plot were just a device for Greene to hang his discussion about Catholicism on. Someone will probably turn round and say, yes that’s what Greene was intending, but it didn’t work for me – the debate dominated and spoiled the novel and I felt the whole construction was rather clumsily done. I’m very happy for novels to have debate and ideas but a skilled writer will embed this within the story so that the ideas are there and can be considered and weighed up by the reader, whilst still allowing them to enjoy a good tale.

If I seem to be a little over-critical, there are some good points to the book. The character of Parkis and his boy are very touchingly portrayed and the atmosphere of war-torn and then post-War London are really well evoked. When Greene forgets his treatise and just tells stories (the section at Sarah’s funeral when he almost picks up another girl) the writing is excellent and you start to engage with the characters. He’s also very good at demonstrating what close companions love and hate actually are, what a thin line there is between them. And the story *was* desperately sad – I ended up feeling that in another setting or time, Sarah would have left her husband and started a new life with Bendix and things could have been very different. But I’m afraid for me all the pontificating was just too much of an intrusion into the novel – it stood out like a sore thumb and spoiled it rather for me. I ended up frustrated thinking that it could have been such a better book had it just concentrated on the storyline. I’ve read several other Greene novels (“Our Man In Havana”, “Monsignor Quixote”, “Brighton Rock”) and really enjoyed them and his writing – but I’m sorry, Middle Child, this one was not for me!

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