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.