Graham Greene – The End of the AffairFebruary 26th, 2010 by Sara
When I first began reading this novel, I was reminded of a book I was forced to read at college, namely Enduring love by Ian McEwan. After groaning inwardly at the similarities (needless to say, I didn’t get on with the latter book at all) I continued reading, and I was extremely glad that I refused to be put off by my initial reaction.
Written in 1951, this book tells the story of a love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles which ends when Sarah suddenly breaks away from her lover. Two years go by and they meet again, this time Bendrix’s love and jealousy slowly become an obsession and after the idea has been planted by Sarah’s husband – ironically Bendrix’s friend – Bendrix decides to hire a private detective to follow her movements.
A thought-provoking novel in more ways than one, my initial resignation of having to spend £7.99 on yet another course book soon vanished. One of the first things that Greene decides to do is to go up to the fourth wall and give it a good shake, not dismantling it but certainly showing the readers that it’s there. There are essentially two narrators within this novel, one of which is Bendrix himself, and the other is Sarah, through the medium of a diary which Bendrix is given by his hired help. The ability to see two different viewpoints, followed by Bendrix’s final understanding of events which he previously felt confused and betrayed by, gives the reader not only a sense of fullness, but also offers a twist which makes the understanding seem not nearly as contrived as it may have been.
The amount of thought the different characters and themes in the novel provoke was certainly a surprise to me. It was only on reflection that I noted the fact that apart from their words and mannerisms, I knew next to nothing about any of the characters. No details of how they dressed, their hair colour, eye colour, build…a lack which the main character forewarns the reader about within the first few pages of the novel by commenting, “I have never been able to describe even my fictitious characters except by their actions…the reader should be allowed to imagine a character in any way he chooses.” I found that this lack didn’t take anything away from the novel itself. It was almost refreshing, even, and interesting to come to my own conclusion as to each character’s appearance.
The characters themselves are extremely human, with each of them having flaws and quirks. Even the main character and primary narrator, Bendrix, has a number of personality setbacks which make him rather dislikeable on occasion. The showing of such character faults gives the readers an impression of a narrator who is as reliable as they are possible able to be – given that they only see one side of a situation anyway. It’s this human-ness within each person within the book that allows the reader a further connection with the text, drawing them in and essentially challenging them to make up their minds about the themes presented.
Not a book I would ever have thought to pick up had I not been ascribed to do so by my course, I find myself once again indebted to the compulsory reading lists that I’ve had to contend with. The pace is good, the characters identifiable, and the novel leaves the reader both wanting to know more, but content that the story has finished. Not a long book by any means (weighing in at about 160 pages or so), it’s a good length and a rather nice change from all the tomes which I’ve been having to read lately.
Would I recommend it? I’d have to say yes, even if just on the strength of style the author presents to the readers. Definitely a book which will remain on my shelves for a good while to come.