I’ve read several Graham Greene expatriate novels and he is one of my favorite authors. He traveled widely and for a time, worked for MI6. I love stories about expatriates and their adventures abroad and I recommend his books, The Quiet American and The Heart of the Matter. Recently I checked out one of his more famous novels, the 1951 The End of the Affair. It is set in 1940s London and is a fictional account of a real-life affair he had. The book is also one of his four novels in that he incorporates the Catholic Church. The main character is an author, Maurice Bendrix, who falls in love with Sarah, the wife of a friend and government employee, Henry Miles.
My biggest takeaway from the story was the inner dialogue our minds have about our relationships. As the title indicates, Bendrix has an affair with Sarah that ends because of his jealousy and obsessions which Greene describes in the first part of the novel. Several years after the affair is over, he hires a private detective to trail Sarah because he is still obsessed with her. The detective manages to find one of her diaries from the period and the reader gets her side of why they broke up. Upon finding out Sarah’s feelings from the diary, he contacts her again, but tragically, she dies from pneumonia before they can restart their relationship. Bendrix had the love of his life and he messed it up due to a lack of communication with her and in his mind, thinking she was not in love with him as much as he was with her.
The other takeaway is the loveless marriage. Henry and Sarah are friends and partners, but there is no passion and love in their marriage. I think she stays with him because he has a good income, is comfortable, and is away a lot from the home and not becoming enraged with her affairs, Sarah stays with Henry. I wonder what percentage of marriages are of convenience and not love after so many years. I am lucky I met my wife Nadia and we are still in love with each other after more than 25 years together and three children. I think part of it is we laugh together often and she is younger than me. It keeps me younger, too.
I didn’t like the philosophical parts of the novel about the existence of God or the role of the Catholic Church. I think the importance of religion and the church has faded in the 70+ years since the book was published. The next time I am in London, I would like to check out the Clapham Common, a park in the city where this story takes place. In my mind, while reading the book, I envisioned “The Common” to be a smaller plaza, but looking on Google Maps, it is more like New York’s Central Park. There is a plaque there dedicated to Greene as he lived there from 1935 to 1940.
The book was made into a movie twice and I see why. Some of the scenes take place during German bombing raids and it would be quite visually striking for the screen. Ralph Fiennes is a good casting choice for Bendrix. It sounds similar to the English Patient.