The End of the Affair

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Category: Classic
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Date Published: September 18, 2004
Number of Pages: 192
Print Price: $10.20
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It is in a night in 1946, a black wet January night that our narrator, Maurice Bendrix—whose very name implies something bent, slanted—wants to draw his reader to in order to begin his tale, which, in his words, is a record of hate far more than of love. He begins with the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain. Slanting; bent. Flaunting his own professional pride as a writer to, as he supposes, prefer the near-truth even to the expression of my near-hate, Bendrix—and Greene—have set us a puzzle about the questionable reliability of our narrator, whom, we soon discover, is embittered by the end of the affair with Henry’s wife Sarah two years ago.

It is an odd, almost brotherly, relationship that develops between Bendrix and Henry, both men bound by jealousy, though the latter struggles against that emotion which is savored morbidly by his companion. Innocent, it would seem, of the knowledge of the earlier affair, Henry confesses to Bendrix a suspicion of Sarah’s loyalty as a wife; she has “secrets”; she has clandestine meetings with…Someone. The irony is that it is the jealous lover, not the husband—Jealousy’s an awful thing, Henry says—who hires out a private detective to track Sarah’s whereabouts; to find this mysterious lover. In Bendrix’s obsessed mind, this might be the answer to the end of the affair. A justification of his jealousy.

Greene presents us a challenge of Faith at least as much as that of flawed human love; perhaps that One to whom we ultimately direct this jealousy or hatred is really God himself—whom Bendrix would rather not acknowledge at all. Perhaps the jealousy, the hate—it is, at least, acknowledgment"—is a step toward love.

If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?


Apparently, Greene himself was uncertain whether the first-person voice was the correct one for this story—“I dreaded to see the whole story smoked dry like a fish with his [Bendrix’s] hatred”, Greene commented—and yet Greene’s masterful sense of plot, his taut characterization, draws the reader on at a swift pace, whether we can sympathize with Bendrix or not. Drum-tight in its construction, with Sarah’s 50ish-page journal entries coming exactly midway in the novel like a welcome adagio, there are no more, and no fewer, scenes or characters than are precisely needed for its forward thrust and momentum; yet with a touch of gratuitous and unexpected pathos and humor—particularly in Mr. Parkis and his boy—to give even Bendrix a spark of warm humanity. We may not be in love with these characters; but we are invested in them. And Greene is a master craftsman who knows the meaning of a good payoff. Even Bendrix’s “unreliability” as narrator is used to perfect advantage. The truth of Sarah, of God, of sin—all shines through in spite of his bias; shines as through smudged, grimy glass, and even the dust and specks sparkle in the light.

Publisher:
ISBN-13: 978-0142437988
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.5 inches


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A lover of all things literary & Dickensian, Rachel is also an avid seamstress, with an interest in a kind of Catholic Arts & Crafts Revival. Her little sewing business, Silverlode Needlecraft, has a new focus--and a new site--on Catholic Liturgical Vestments. Her own blog can be found here.

"The beautiful is as useful as the useful." ~Victor Hugo

 

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