I came across The End of the Affair somewhat accidentally: that is, I knew of Graham Greene’s books but have always had other novels I wanted to read more. Then one recent afternoon I stumbled across an article on the internet about books this particular person had read but would rather have listened to on audiobook (because the audiobooks were so good), including Greene’s The End of the Affair as narrated by Colin Firth.
Now, I am one of those people who would listen to a proper English actor’s voice reading almost anything: I’m even trying to figure out how to convert this clip of Tom Hiddleston reciting the “Once more unto the breach!” monologue from Henry V into an audio file compatible with iTunes so that I can play it in my half-marathon playlist, in part because I recite this particular monologue to myself and my hapless running partner whenever I really have to talk myself into continuing to run, and partly because I like having my reading life follow me into other areas of my life (like running), and really let’s-be-honest mostly partly because it’s Tom Hiddleston [swoon], and he reads Shakespeare so well!
This audiobook seemed like the perfect solution for me right now, as in addition to a spate of recent long drives, I am very painstakingly trying to knit a baby hat for my future nephew, these being things impossible to do while also reading. I have the hardest time picking out audiobooks, because somehow I need to believe that I will want to listen to the audiobook again in order to justify the cost (rather than books I buy that I may never read again without any guilt or thought whatsoever), and my library’s selection of audiobooks leaves quite a few titles to be desired.
But I digress.
The End of the Affair left me with very mixed emotions. As you’d guess, this is the story of two people who were lovers, Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, whose affair stops abruptly. It’s the story of two people who fell in love, whose affair falls apart, and these two people and their search for God.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to talk about this book, so I turned to Goodreads to get an idea of what other people have already said about it. My perusal of reviews there was by no means comprehensive but it does seem like a frequent theme among those who loved it was that they read it just as a relationship they were in was ending or had ended, and how it helped them through that time.
This was not true of me. I found the novel’s theology problematic, not in the sense of it detracting from the novel’s success but the very real and acute sense that the novelist’s idea of who and what God is fundamentally differs from the God I know. What I thought Greene did — and did expertly — was sharpen the emotions driving Maurice, particularly, as he examines how the human emotions of love and hate are not so far removed from each other; or how hating something or someone doesn’t necessarily lessen one’s desire for that thing or person.
Maurice was not an easy character for me to like, but — and I think this is Greene’s particular success — that doesn’t mean I didn’t recognize myself in him:
Grief and disappointment are like hate: they make men ugly with self-pity and bitterness. And how selfish they make us too.
In The End of the Affair, Greene takes up a very human sort of story with very human characters, and listening to it, it was impossible for me not to feel that Greene followed Hemingway’s school of thought about writing: “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”