So it’s been 13 days since New Year, and I have, so far, kept to my resolution of not buying any more books. As it happens, I’ve even sold some on Amazon, making myself a tidy £35 in the process. As I have stopped allowing more books to creep onto my shelves, I am learning to be less precious about the ones already on them, and to let some of those that I know I will never read again go. I used to find this unthinkable, but considering it objectively, I thought – would I keep an ornament, or a piece of furniture, that I didn’t enjoy and didn’t use, letting it take up space and gather dust for no purpose whatsoever? No. So why do I so obsessively hang onto books that I don’t love and will never pick up again? For a myriad of reasons that are all as silly as the next. So, I am putting a stop to my book hoarding; I am getting rid of any books that I don’t love enough to want to read again one day, and, I am making a list of books I don’t own and want to read, so that I can borrow them from the library. I have a fear of the library; partly due to my unpaid fines, and partly because I don’t like having to give books back. But, the new laid back about books me is embracing the opportunity to try before I buy, and if I absolutely love a book I borrow from the library, I will make a note of it and add it to my permanent library at some point once my year of no book buying is up.
So, how am I finding not being able to buy books? In short, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. I haven’t avoided book shops; on the contrary, I’ve been in several, to test my mettle. I’m that sort of person. I have picked up books, touched them, flicked through, tried to make excuses for why this one is exempt from the ban, almost broken my resolve, and then put them all safely back on the shelf. I don’t need them. Accepting this simple truth, and knowing that the library is there if I absolutely must read a book I don’t have, has been liberating. I’m a recovering bookaholic. And it feels great!
The End of The Affair has been on my wish list to read for a long time, and I don’t own it, so it’s the first book I’ve chosen to borrow from the library now I’m trying before buying. I haven’t read any Graham Greene before and I didn’t know what to expect; I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot, but the writing style was completely new to me. I was blown away from the first page; it’s agonisingly painful in its exploration of jealousy and hate, but the essence of this novel is love, and how love can inspire as much bad in us as good. It reminded me a lot of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier.
It’s set over a period of about six years, before, during and after WWII, and the plot goes forward and back in time, giving us the whole story of the narrator Bendrix’s affair with a neighbour, Sarah Miles. Bendrix is a moderately successful novelist, and he meets Sarah after arranging to interview her husband for research purposes; his next novel is going to be about a civil servant, and Sarah’s dull husband Henry is a civil servant of high ranking. Unintentionally, Bendrix begins an affair with Sarah, and before he knows it, he has fallen desperately, obsessively in love with her. They see each other in snatched moments during the day, and in the evening, when Sarah can get away. She is a complicated woman; loyal to her husband, but unfulfilled and miserable in her marriage; she pursues affairs to make herself feel loved and valued, something Henry is seemingly unable to do. Bendrix is jealous, and angry that Sarah won’t leave Henry; her morals are incomprehensible to him. One night, during the war, the couple are caught in an air raid; Bendrix has gone downstairs, leaving Sarah in bed upstairs, when the bomb hits the house. Sarah, terrified that Bendrix has been killed, prays desperately, promising God that she will end the affair if He spares Bendrix’s life. Bendrix emerges from the bombed hallway unscathed, and Sarah feels compelled to keep her promise to God, ending the affair that night. Two years pass before their paths cross again, and the jealous, bitter Bendrix hires a private investigator to follow her steps, believing she is having an affair with another man. However, it turns out, after Bendrix gets hold of Sarah’s diary, that the only affair Sarah is having is with God, and her struggle with her faith, or lack of it, will have devastating consequences for everyone involved.
This was a remarkably good novel; it’s short, but it is incredibly powerful, and wonderfully, movingly written. Bendrix and Sarah’s passionate but doomed love for each other, and Sarah’s desperate search for something bigger than herself that causes her more pain than pleasure is an excellent exploration of the contradictions of the human spirit, and of the need we all have to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It was refreshing, and moving, to read about the pain love causes men, for once, and I wasn’t expecting the religious angle at all; some argue that this section lets the book down, but I thought it was actually one of the most important aspects of the novel. I was interested to read in the Introduction that The End of the Affair is actually very autobiographical, and I think that is why it is such a brillantly portrayed account of how desperate the pursuit of love, and the desire to feel secure in someone’s love, makes us. You can feel Greene’s grief seeping into the pages. I highly recommend it, and I will be borrowing more of his books from the library in future. Isn’t it exciting to discover an author for the first time?!