The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

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?!

23 comments

  1. Good for you, my resolution has been broken twice – once for an irresistible out-of-print novel in Oxfam (don't ask me what recovering bookaholics are doing in Oxfam!) but my first transgression was ordered from America, hasn't arrived yet … and, do you know I can't even remember what it was. So I must have really, really wanted it! And currently have 16 books out of the library. A hopeless case!Have always loved Graham Greene, though … definitely one to keep.

  2. I've just about done 13 days myself – I cheated and bought a book New Years Eve. Unlike you though, I've been avoiding bookshops at all costs, and I always *have* to buy a book at the airport. Am going away for a long weekend tomorrow, so, let's see how my resolve works at the airport….. I haven't read any Greene, and your review does make me want to change that (damnit!). The book does sound fantastic, all said and done…

  3. The End of the Affair is indeed wonderful. Sadly though I loved it so much that nothing else of his has quite met my expectations.And re the library. Think of taking books out as your chance to influence what they stock. I haven't mentioned it in Library loot posts, but I have bought Miss Pettigrew and Miss Hargreaves out on day trips despite having good copies of my own.And of course you can evangelize when you take books back. Push the great ones to the front and the mediocre to the back!

  4. I read this in high school, and I went through a HUGE Greene phase because of it. It was so just beautifully written!

  5. I've always wanted to read this as well but will wait until I've made a HUGE dent on my tbr stack. Hooray for letting go of the books you don't love.. I made a similar decision a few years back and haven't regretted it (except for maybe a couple or so titles that I now want to reread). But overall it's been good for the soul.. knowing that everything I have on my shelves are treasured. Less clutter, too.

  6. You're doing brilliantly in keeping up with your resolution. I hope your new non-library fearing self will find wonderful books in the stacks. Also, I don't know if it will help, but one of the things I do now is use my Amazon wishlist as a library list. They really do have a wonderful system in place with all those different wishlists one can make. So once I've read a book and returned it, I can take it off the list. Unless I absolutely loved it, in which case, it goes in the list to be purchased later. It *almost* feels like book shopping.🙂

  7. Oh, I am a bookhoarder too. Well, used to be. I love how you say you go to bookstores too, to test your mettle–I do that too, and I've succeeded. Well, four times out of five, haha. But it's in line with a new strategy to book buying, I think–being more discerning, researching and all that. And actually reading a couple of pages (before I'd just plunk them in the cart because they looked cool).More on book-hoarding: This has been in my shelf for so longnow; my mother wanted me to read it, she said I would like it. I really should listen to my mother more often, haha. I'll get around to reading this (this year!)

  8. I do try and give any book I haven't particularly enjoyed to the charity shop – I don't have the shelf room and I don't want to limit myself too much when it comes to buying new books! Having said that, I do feel I have got rid of almost all of the books that I can at the moment – I look at my shelves and can see myself re-reading almost all of my already-read books. I also can never bring myself to get rid of Classics or History books… I blame my mother entirely for my book hoarding tendencies!!Last year I did announce I would join the library to get books out that I don't really need to buy. Hasn't happened yet but maybe now is the time. There's a few on my wish list I would like to read but not sure I would re-read them ever.And I have been meaning to read this book for ages! My friend recommended it to me at uni, but I haven't got around to reading it, but with your rave review maybe I will now.

  9. Well done with the book buying ban so far. I am thinking I should really get selling some of my books on Amazon as I have some lovely hardbacks. Lots of mine are going to charities at the moment. I read The End of The Affair a few years ago, it was my first Greene and swore I would read more and then havent since and feel I must so this delightful post has been a timely and pleasant reminder.

  10. I've read 2 Greene novels. The Power and The Glory I read in school, and I remember disliking it, And The Heart of The Matter I read last week, and enjoyed. I think my dislike of The Power and The Glory was why it's taken me so long to read any more! This sounds good though, so this might be next!

  11. I love both this and The Good Soldier. Well done on your book buying ban. I think I should stop buying books until I have read everything that is currently un-read in my flat. This is highly unlikely though as I can't resist!

  12. I loved The End of the Affair and have been meaning to reread it for several years. Sadly, have not read anything else by Greene – yet. Have been wanting to read The Good Soldier for a long, long time, too.

  13. I visited The End of the Affair over the holidays. During some quiet time, I sat on the edge of the bed in the spare room and 'visited' with some of my books, flipping through the pages and reading lines here and there. This book really does contain some beautiful writing doesn't it, I agree with you completely. At the library, I've heard several parents say to their children 'say bye-bye to Dora' and it's amazing how many children are then unable to let a book go! How I wish they wouldn't focus on giving up a certain book, focus on what they can bring home next instead.That goal of yours is the best reason for saving your pennies…or rather pence!

  14. Well done on the book buying ban Rachel! I am doing it alongside you, though I haven't promised an entire year free of book buying, more like one day at a time! Never been a book hoarder myself though. Always found it refreshing to get rid of clutter (yes I just called books clutter because they are if they are only sitting around taking up space, unappreciated, never to be thought of again) and enjoy making a bit of cash from amazon. The End of the Affair was my first Graham Greene novel as well. Beautifully written, loved it. My next Greene was Stamboul Train which I wasn't that impressed by and have temporarily abandoned him. I did read The Third Woman: The Secret Passion that inspired The End of the Affair by William Cash (checked out from RBKC library no less!) and found it truly interesting.

  15. I also used to hang on to every book I bought but now take books that I will no longer read to the charity shop. What is the point in storing books that I haven't enjoyed and that just sit on the shelves gathering dust? I haven't borrowed a book from the library in about 10 years. I just love the smell and feel of a new book and the pleasure in knowing I am the first person to open that particular copy. I did actually go to my local library when we first moved here and enquired where all the classics were as I couldn't see any on the shelves only to be told that they were in their office as there wasn't any demand for them!!!! I left in disgust and haven't even joined. I've not read any Greene I am ashamed to say.

  16. Good luck with the book ban, I've found that spending plenty of time in bookshops making lists of things you might like is almost as satisfying as buying actual books, so think your wise not to avoid them altogether:)

  17. You really make me want to read so many lesser-known classics! I think I saw the movie based on this book…but the plot doesn't sound familiar, so perhaps I did not. I have wanted to read Ford Madox Ford, too. So much to do🙂

  18. Lovely writing as always, Rachel. I really liked this Greene book. Roman Catholic right? I'm in the midst of another RC connected book, Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I've already read it a couple of times, but it is one of my favorites. With Jeremy Irons narrating, it is perfection. I wouldn't go see the movie. It's been done and done the best it could be already on television, in my not so humble opinion. :<) I've tried other GG, but they were too, I don't know what to say – manly man, maybe?? Too many men. This one was more to my taste. I did fine not buying for seven months last year, but as soon as it was over, I told Tom I'd never do it again. It is one of my great pleasures in life. I'm just more careful now, and trying to buy what I'm quite sure I'll like.

  19. I haven't read this, but I saw the movie back when it was in theaters and do want to read it someday. I have, however, read Power and the Glory and Heart of the Matter and enjoyed them both. I want to read some of his lighter stuff as well.

  20. I really enjoyed The End of The Affair and it prompted me to pick up several other Graham Greene's although strangely I haven't got round to reading most of them. Brighton Rock is one that I want to read but am a bit bemused by the synopsis.

  21. M – It's so hard to break the habit, isn't it! I have an incentive though – I am saving for something special – so every time I think I want to buy a book, I just remind myself it's less money towards my pot, and then I can resist!Anothercookie – I hope you manage to resist at the airport! It's a dangerous place for impulse buying…I hope you get to try Greene soon.Fleur – Oh that's disappointing. I'm interested to see how I will find his other books. I love your library tips! I think I shall take some unjustly underused books out for a walk if I find them – especially if they look in danger of being withdrawn from circulation!Eva – isn't it stunning? I am longing to read more now. I feel I have missed out by coming to him so late!Claire – Yes, finding space in the TBR pile is very tricky indeed! You are so right – having only books you treasure is worth being ruthless for. I want my library to represent me, and not just be a hotchpotch of books I've amassed just to look impressive!Makedo – Thank you! That's a great suggestion – I think I shall do that from now on to keep track!Sasha- Yes, it is all about being more discerning, I think – less impulsive. I'm trying to be more like that with everything I buy these days – reasoning out purchases rather than buying indiscriminately, then regretting later. I hope you get around to The End of the Affair soon, it's well worth it.Escaping – Yes, this is my problem – shelf space was used up long ago, and with a move coming up, I need to weed out the unnecessary volumes that I don't need to take with me. Try the library! You might change your mind. I hope you read Greene soon!Simon – Thanks! Yes, do get selling – it's amazing how much you can make back and it's easy money! Jo – So you've had a bit of a hit and miss experience with Greene? Interesting. I'm going to browse his books and decide which one I fancy going for next.Naomi – Our tastes mesh again! This time I am really sticking to the ban – you should join me!

  22. JoAnn – I'm surprised by how many people say they have or have wanted to read Greene – I thought he was quite a subversive choice! The Good Soldier is remarkable, really brilliant. I highly recommend it!Darlene – I love the idea of visiting your books! I do that sometimes, when I'm trying to decide what to read next. It is so hard to let beloved books go – when I worked at the library there was one lady who had been renewing the same book for three years because she couldn't bear to give it back – I wanted to say to her – has it never occurred to you to buy your own copy?! Thank you – yes indeed it is worth the sacrifice!Heather – Thank you! Taking it one day at a time is key – if I think about it as a year long book buying wilderness, I panic. Another mention of Greene being a bit hit and miss – I'll have to pick my next one carefully. I will look out for that William Cash book – RBKC library will be getting a visit from me!OhSoVintage- I know, there is no point in keeping books I don't love. It is quite liberating to let go, I find. No classics in the library?! I think I would share your indignation! I am the opposite to you – to me there is nothing better than the faint smell of must that rises from the pages of an old book!Desperate Reader – Thank you! Exactly – I am getting ideas from the book shop – then adding them to the library list! So I do get to 'shop' in a way!Aarti – Thank you! I know – there is so much more to read, always. That's why you have to pick carefully! I hope you find time for Madox Ford and Green soon!Nan – Thank you. It is Roman Catholic, yes. Oh, gosh, Brideshead Revisited is one of my absolute favourites! I adore it. Hmm…I see what you mean about the manliness of GG novels! I think I will have to choose the next one very carefully. It is going to be tough as I love buying books but I have a goal I am saving for and I also want to learn to be able to curb my spending and be more discerning about what I buy. I know I will love it when I am allowed to shop again, but I hope I will approach book buying in a more considered and restrained way!Teresa – I am filing away those titles! The movie was wonderful, and that's what made me want to read the book.Novelinsights – I do that all the time – hoard an author, then never read them! I'll have to check out Brighton Rock – I have heard it's a bit odd!

  23. Graham Greene's book are just gorgeous. If you thought the religion aspect was strong I rceommend 'Brighton Rock' because among all the gangsters there's a deep and scary kind of Ctaholicism, as well as it's opposite.

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