Sunday, August 23, 2009

The End of the Affair (3 Book Review in 1)

I recently finished reading Graham Greene's
The End of the Affair. My first Greene undertaking was The Power and the Glory, a story about a usually drunken, somewhat promiscuous priest in South America who was one of the few Catholic clergymen who had escaped persecution at a dark point in history. I know lots of people love this book and it's exploration of this broken character who just might be redeemed, but it was too slow (and too deep) for me. Despite this failure, I kep trying. My second Greene novel was Our Man in Havana, a humorous (though not laugh outloud funny) satire. The main character is a British vacuum salesman living with his less-than-thrifty teenage daughter in Havana. One day a ridiculous spy approaches him and basically strong arms the man into becoming "Our Man in Havana." Thereafter he begins making up spy stories to support his daughter's spending. It was amusing, but not a novel I would reread (if I did reread novels, which I don't.)

The End of the Affair. I am glad I didn't give up on Greene. Mainly I stuck with him because I'm always interested in how a Christian writer portrays his/her faith in literary fiction (notice the specification--literary) and Greene is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in the English language. So, I picked up a copy of The End of the Affair, a slight book at only 150 odd pages, and started reading. From the first page, the book had some sort of hold on me. It was, by no means, a page turner, but it had this comfortable feel to it, like laying in your bed on a Saturday morning. That's not to say the book was fluff or full of feel-goodies. As you might have guessed, it's about the end of a love affair.

Single writer Maurice Bendrix narrates the history of his relationship with the married Sarah Miles. When she inexplicably breaks off their affair, Bendrix, full of a complicated mixture of love and hate which even he cannot sort out, tries to find out why. Desperate, he hires a private detective, reads Sarah's diary, and almost tries to move on. What Bendrix discovers (and this might be a bit of a spoiler) is that Sarah's new lover is not a man he can hunt down but God. As the novel progresses, this slighted lover refuses to accept that Sarah will not come back to him and that God is real. Through Sarah's diary, there is a similar struggle--she longs to leave her husband, go back to Bendrix, and forget her pact with God (which you will understand if you read the novel). Something has changed in her though and she cannot wholly deny God's existence nor her love for Him.

Greene interweaves both characters' conflicted inner monologues with the progresion of their story, which helped me to stay engaged with the book and not bogged down in the turmoil of their minds. I know that for many this would be a slow read, but I was surprised at how Greene approached the subject of faith--with much wrestling, some intellectual argument, and a miracle or three. I also appreciated that the characters were not exactly at they seemed on page one. There's much more to the book than I've written here, and I could hardly to it justice. I suppose you'll just have to read it, but please don't ask to borrow my copy because my luggage is already full of 15 or so unread books.

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