Friday, 3 September 2010

Review: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene


  • star1 star1 star1 star1 star1
  • Genre: Modern Classic
  • Published: 1951
  • Pages: 160



The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles ended two years ago, but a chance encounter with her husband and then herself ignites the bed of jealousy again. 

This is my third Greene and has I think, cemented my admiration for this author forever. It is his writing that I love first. It feels as if Greene rolls every word around in his mouth before carefully placing them down on the paper before him. He writes with all the delicate craft of a sculptor, chipping and polishing away so that there are no superfluous words or phrases. Each scene is carefully layered and there are so many parts I wish now I hate noted down. This book begs to be re-read just so I can appreciate it all again.

It is narrated by Maurice Bendrix who is an author and through the book he reflects  on the process of his writing and the difficulties with it that he has especially during and after the affair. The is a strange kind of consciousness in it – as if Greene himself is discussing writing the book whilst writing it himself.

The End of the Affair is one of the novels where Catholicism plays a main part. In the two other books I have read – Brighton Rock and The Quiet American religion has played an important or elemental part in the story. Rather then portraying characters of staunch faith however, they may be atheists, almost contemptuous of God’s existence. The struggle with doubt and the temptation of sin play important roles within his novels.

Another theme that runs through these three books is obsessive, almost destructive love. In Brighton Rock Pinkie marries Rose because he thinks she has seen something that might incriminate him. Rose shows him devotional love despite how unkind he is to her. Thomas Fowler from The Quiet American is rather pathetically in love with Phuong, perhaps as a means to cling onto youth and usefulness. In The End of the Affair it is Maurice Bendrix’s jealousy that infects his love.

An interesting parallel in The End of the Affair, is that Bendrix as an author is described to be like a God in his ability to create a world and characters, pushing them around the storyboard and being able to change them at his will. Sarah also refers to Bendrix throughout their affair as ‘You’ with the capitalisation. At the heart of this book is the struggle between faith and doubt – mortal and immortal love.

I am not a religious person and you don’t have to be to enjoy this book. Greene is simply a very good writer who is not pretentious and it doesn’t feel as if he tries to be literary. He has a strong voice and an independent style of writing – a confident writer who knows his craft well. That’s what I admire about Graham Greene. Some authors just have it, some authors have to try to have it. Greene has got it.

Also, as a classic I think that it will still resonate with people today – Greene is able to tap into the human heart and in the end – society may have changed a lot but as people, we are all the same and so the range of emotions, the kinds of characters that you meet in this book will still be entirely relevant today and tomorrow and hopefully in the next hundred years.

A word of warning to those who read the Vintage edition of this book with the introduction by Monica Ali. I know you are not supposed to read Introductions first so I consciously avoided reading it but I couldn’t help but glance past the giant clanger of a spoiler that is the very first sentence. I wouldn’t say it ruined the book for me at all because it is not a book with a massive plot and so there is not much really to spoil. You read it for the writing and the deeply human characters. it however took away from me the experience of discovery, mystery and hope that I would have liked for myself. 

Thank you Monica Ali, from the bottom of my heart. Just watch me throw Brick Lane to the very bottom of my TBR pile. That is a rather lame revenge but there you go. I’m sure I’ll forgive her.

I’d like to thank a Mr Forder, who gave me Brighton Rock at my old school’s summer fair not long before I left for university. He said I should read it, that it was very good and I did'n’t do so until a good few years later. The book had a mummified fly in one of the pages but it was my first introduction to Graham Greene and I don’t think I’d have read him without the recommendation.


  1. I love when you get awesome books recommended to you :)

  2. FANTASTIC review, Fiona! One of your best, I think. I've had this book on my TBR for awhile. Hearing your thoughts about Green and the books of his you've read, I'm more excited than ever to give him a try.

  3. I liked Brighton Rock when we read it at school but have never got round more green. I must make the effort.

    And I doubt you'll feel any more like forgiving Monica Ali once you've read Brick Lane. It not awful just slow, kind of like trying to walk somewhere quickly with a large brick tied to your ankle - you might enjoy the scenery but you never seem to be getting anywhere and in the end it's just frustrating.

  4. I hate it when the Introduction spoils the book. I always skip it. I'm going to have to read this. It's on my long, long virtual TBR list now. Thanks Fi. LOL!

  5. Thanks Fiona. I had sort of forgotten about Graham Greene. I have wanted to try him out for a while. I don't think this particular book would be good to be my first Greene experience, but I went searching and added The Power and the Glory to by TBBought List

  6. Hey! I wanted to let you know that there's an award for you over at Kate's Library.

  7. hands down my favorite graham greene and one of my favorite books of all time. bendrix might be one of the best names in literature. great review!

  8. Great review! Have to get around this book at some point (I read my first book by him some time ago, The Power and the Glory, which was pretty intriguing) =)

    A bit off-topic but I just wanted to let you know that I've given you a blogger award! You may pick it up over here. Congratulations! =)

  9. I want to read this. Another book to read.



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