Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Reading: The End of the Affair

I just finished listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and it took me longer to read than any of the books from last week because I found the narrator to be such a self and detestable character that I didn't want to see what insensitive thing he would do next. In the end, I did pity him, and I had some hope for him. As frustrating as I found it, I couldn't help but like the book. The Regeneration series was interesting to me, but I had a hard time connecting to it because it had so many voices, so many goings on, and the drama of war wasn't as dramatic as it could have been. The End of the Affair is about an affair, but surprisingly it's also about the drama of religion, and not just religious sentiment but the pull toward, in Tillich's terms, the ultimate.

A couple of things that I did not like about the novel beyond the selfishness of Bendrix, the main character/narrator, is how both he, and even the author, so blithely sacrifice the woman for the sake of the man. There is a violence done to Sarah that may be simple selfishness on Bendrix's part, but almost seems sadistic on the part of Greene. It reminds me a lot of The Immoralist by Andre Gide where the lead character is so caught up in himself that he drags his sick wife all across Europe to  finally meet a violent and bloody end in Africa.

Similarly, Bendrix chases a sick and dying Sarah through the streets of London, finally catching her in a church where she had sought refuge. He would not listen to her; he would not leave her be, and she dies. It is never mentioned after, but I wonder if Bendrix had a sick pleasure in knowing that it was he who had pushed her body to the brink of death. He was so jealous and horrible, thinking that the whole time they were together that she had other lovers, and even after knowing that wasn't the case he was still jealous of her newly found love for God. In the end God becomes his rival, and what's more, he has to begin to believe in God in order for God to become the desired rival. And I think the rival is desired perhaps even more than Sarah, who is supposed to be the object of desire. Bendrix becomes obsessed with the other men in Sarah's life, and in the end he actually moves in with her widowed husband.

And Sarah becomes a saint, performing miracles. Maybe saints have to die violent deaths and that is why Greene allowed this character to be treated so horribly by Bendrix. But it certainly ran the risk of making her a two-dimensional character, although I think he rescued her from that by giving us a glimpse into her diary, into her religious struggles and her struggles with Bendrix. She was always a saint, it turns out, it just took longer for her to get there.  Maybe it was all necessary then, to give her such a sad ending, but it still bothers me.

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