Saturday, September 6, 2014

The End of the Affair [1951]

British novelist Graham Greene preferred calling himself a “Catholic atheist”, and the constant tussle between faith, skepticism and rationality formed a key theme in his famous 1951 novel The End of the Affair. The roman à clef was also significant in that his scandalous adulterous affair with Lady Catherine Walston, wife of British politician Henry Walston, formed the springboard for the book. Crisis of faith, moral dilemmas, extra-marital relationship, love, obsession and jealousy played parts in this slim but dense book about the four-way affair between man, wife, lover, and, well, God. Narrated completely in flashbacks, the story has its protagonist Maurice Bendrix, a volatile novelist of scanty means but growing repute, reminiscing about his torrid affair with Sarah Miles, the dazzling, sexually voracious and independent-minded wife of wealthy mild-mannered and cuckolded civil servant Henry Miles, during the turbulent days of London Blitz during WWII, and its sudden collapse which propelled Maurice towards an obsessive streak of jealousy and anger. The story begins with Maurice having a chance encounter with a uncharacteristically drunk Henry, which rekindles his memories of Sarah on one hand, and propels him towards hiring Parkis, a pitifully docile and simple-natured private detective, to spy on her, on the other. The 1st third of the book, where love, hurt and viciousness got brilliantly mixed with cynicism and self-destructiveness through Maurice’s 1st person account, was easily its best part; the unlikely friendship that eventually develops between the two men at the end led it to a surprisingly affecting finale; the middle section which put the ball on the lady’s court in the form of her personal diary, however, was its weakest part on account of the effusive sentimentality and excessive religiosity that seemed out of sync vis-à-vis the rest of the book’s measured and acerbic tone. The characters were very well-etched, with each of the 3 protagonists, as well as the supporting characters like the mousy detective, a compulsive rationalist and a head-strong priest, distinctively identifiable and imbued with three-dimensional facets.

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Drama/Romance/Religious Drama/Semi-Autobiographical
Language: English
Country: UK

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