The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There have been two novels I have read over the past decade that have significantly impacted my life. The first was Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, and the second was Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road. These two novels affected me more than many of the people I have met in my life because they, in the case of Dostoevsky, illuminated a grand and immeasurable philosophical quandary, or, in the case of Kerouac, identified a lasting inspiration within me. Now, I add Graham Greene‘s The End of the Affair to that list of profoundly impacting novels.

And for now, a ‘why’ is in order.

I was searching for this novel. And, perhaps, I’d like to think, it was searching for me. In that regard, I was looking for something to solve a mystery in my life; to, perhaps, better explain my feelings than I was able. And I drew it near me. To be clear: I was searching for a way to explain the end of a personal affair. I was searching for a work of art to explain an emotion that I could not yet apprehend due to broken ties across an ocean, and this novel did more than explain. It inspired.

The opening lines took me by surprise: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead” (7). This line expresses a notion that I had been considering for some time, after I decidedly picked up Friedrich Nietzsche and read his words: “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena”. Greene echoes this in literary form, and thus begins a much more writerly text than I first supposed.

What I mean by writerly (a term used by Roland Barthes)is that Greene is not providing mere entertainment. One can feel his working of the novel’s breadth before him. The fact that the narrator injects musings on his daily writing habits and his nagging inability to bring to life a character or two, inform the reader that he or she is reading a book by an author. Also these notions hint to the reader that these characters may or may not be fictional, and that there is a thin line dividing the realm of fiction and fact when one relies on one’s “chosen” memories and “moral” interpretations. A writerly text seeks to elucidate this discrepancy. Writerly is Literature for writers, with writers in mind who want to demystify the artifice that is superficial entertainment. Writerly announces that this is Literature, this is a story you are reading, I am an author and a narrator, which is one reason why I often found this text so inspiring.

All stories are constructed to help us get through the day. To help us live. To help us wake up and go to work. To help us get through an emotion. This is the inevitable notion forever stimulating Art and Literature. Great Art is supposed to be cathartic. It is supposed to help you construct a social understanding when the your limited social world cannot aid you. There was no person, no friend, no relative, to empathize with me at the end of my affair (I use the term purposefully, even though there was no love triangle). What Art does is it gives you time to ruminate on a moment. Art provides a space for you to take the time to construct your personal empathetic understanding, when all life wants you to do is shut up and move on. Wake up. Get over it. Although, inevitably, it helps you do just that.

I can’t imagine this review does Greene’s novel justice. Inevitably, I waxed philosophical during my review and omitted much of the content of the novel, which is what initially forged my personal connection to it. Well, such is life. It is a novel I will be reading again soon with a pencil by my side to underline passages and quotations. And, so I hope it is one that I will revisit and possibly review again. After all, the most justice I think I can do for this novel is to mimic it, and with that, secure it the highest compliment of all.

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4 thoughts on “The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

  1. That’s a very interesting list of three books, and I associate all of them as books that “go down the rabbit hole” … which in my personal dictionary means they get deep enough into their characters that the characters begin to feel unstable and break apart. With Kerouac, I think it happens because he just let’s it fly: these guys are just out there, doing whatever. With Dostoyevsky, it’s because Raskolnikov is a deeply, lucidly, disturbingly whacked pile of contradictions. With Greene, it’s because Bendrix is so honest about how, well, unpleasant he seems at heart. It’s a bit of grim triptych, though, you’ve got there.

    • Haha! They are a bit grim aren’t they! I am hard pressed to find a not-so-grim character on my bookshelf, though. Perhaps a Shakespeare play or two, or the random Dahl novel. 🙂

      I was upset at myself if I would identify with Bendrix. He identifies his feelings as hat–and I don’t want to possess that feeling. But Greene’s (this is where I separate Bendrix and Greene) description of Sarah’s character and Bendrix and Sarah’s relationship still resounds with me. But, better yet, the writing made things so effortlessly lucid (especially her Catholicism and their moving from love to love-affair). So much so that the clarity led me far away from Bendrix’ Hate.

      And this is where I need to write a second review, but it would be far to personal at the moment.

      Thanks for the comment, Peter! They are always appreciated.

      p.s. There’s a film version! What? any thoughts?

      • In Shakespeare, I have major crushes on Rosalind and Viola … really who doesn’t? … and they are pretty cheerful. Beatrice. Men, though, I’m hard pressed at the moment. Benedict, I guess.

        As for the movie: 1999. Adapted and directed by Neil Jordan. Ralph Fiennes at his fierce best playing Bendrix.. Julianne Moore. Stephen Rea. Doesn’t pull any punches.

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