Book Review: THE END OF THE AFFAIR, a writer struggles with the idea of God

Greene, Graham - The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair
Graham Greene

In The End of the Affair, Maurice Bendrix recounts his liaison with the beautiful Sarah Miles, married to senior civil servant Henry Miles. Beginning in 1939, when Bendrix invited Sarah to lunch on the pretext of researching a book on civil servants, the affair lasted until 1944. It ended abruptly when a bomb fell in their neighborhood and damaged Bendrix’s boarding house. Bendrix, who had been in the stairwell at the time, was trapped under the front door. He was able to free himself, and when he returned to his room, Sarah was by his bed praying, something he’d never seen her do before.

Two years later, Bendrix ran into Henry walking across the Commons in the rain and invited him for a drink. That casual (or not) invitation pulled Bendrix back into Sarah’s orbit and disrupted the other men around her–Henry, Richard Smythe, an anti-Christianity rationalist, and Mr. Parkis, a private investigator.

My husband loves Graham Greene, and I’ve enjoyed the other novels I’ve read, The Quiet American and Our Man in Havanna. I was primed to enjoy The End of the Affair, but I just didn’t care for it. I’m not really interested in these internal religious debates, particularly the all-or-nothing choices that Bendrix seemed to consider. Furthermore, the only female character, Sarah, was just a symbol representing different things for the different male characters, not a fully developed person. If she were a fully developed person, I might ask why she would be interested in having an affair with Bendrix, a rough and insecure writer who wants to dominate women.

I did think the idea of storytelling and the arbitrary nature of beginnings and endings was interesting, and Greene did track how closely love and hate coexist, so some of the themes were compelling, but I was so overwhelmed by Sarah’s role in the book and the question of religion that it was difficult for me to see the other aspects of the novel.