Graham Greene's End of the Affair
is ostensibly a cinematic mystery in need of solving. Set in medias res
shortly after WWII, the story flashes back to the The Blitz of London via the narrator's memory and the stolen journal of his lover, Sarah Miles, who leaves him without word or explanation. Greene's mystery morphs into a piercingly sustained account of Sarah's wrestling journey with faith, to faith. 'I've caught belief like a disease,' she writes in her diary, a simple recognition that she has embarked upon the way of suffering (almost without her consent).
Greene's portrait of a woman enjoying adultery, without guilt--a scandal in its time--suggests that Sarah has been led to belief through a mortal sin. As Michael Gorra puts it in the introduction, the 'erotic experience has brought her to a knowledge of the divine and even into a state of grace.' For most of the book, Greene leaves the door just slightly ajar. A series of 'miracles' might be coincidences. He almost batters Maurice (the primary narrator and Sarah's lover) into belief himself, and it's never quite clear if Maurice holds out (against God) in the end.
Green's narrative choices aside, The End of the Affair belongs in the ranks of his finest works, both for his sharply drawn characters and for the portion of the book written as excerpts from Sarah's diary. The antithetical, though not contradictory, poles of love and hate are both means of grace. As Sarah writes:
'You [God] willed our separation, but he [Maurice] willed it too. He worked for it with his anger and his jealousy, and he worked for it with his love. For he gave me so much love, and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn't anything left, when we'd finished, but You. For either of us...even the first time, in the hotel near Paddington, we spent all we had. You were there, teaching us to squander, like You taught the rich man, so that one day we might have nothing left except this love of You. But You are too good to me. When I ask You for pain, You give me peace. Give it him too. Give him my peace--he needs it more.'
An Eighth Day View:
""A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses a moment of experience from which to look ahead...""
"This is a record of hate far more than of love," writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles--a hate bred of a passion that ultimately lost out to God.
Now, a year after Sarah's death, Bendrix seeks to exorcise the persistence of passion by retracing its course from obsessive love to love-hate. At the start he believes he hates Sarah and her husband, Henry. By the end of the book, Bendrix's hatred has shifted to the God he feels has broken his life but whose existence he has at last come to recognize.
Originally published in 1951, The End of the Affair was acclaimed by William Faulkner as "for me one of the best, most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody's language." This Penguin Deluxe Edition features an introduction by Michael Gorra.