Friday, September 18, 2015

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene


I am not fond of the radio in my town, so though my commute to work is only 15 minutes each way, I nearly always have at least one audiobook in the car. (Sometimes more, if I'm ready to start something new and can't decide what it will be). Frequently, I use the audiobooks for some required reading for my library book group, but I also love having at least one classic on hand. I spent a couple of months this summer with The Count of Monte Cristo (36 discs!) which took a good long while.

The other day, I saw that my library now owns an audiobook version of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair narrated by Colin Firth. Like many women, I have had a huge crush on Colin Firth since the first time I saw the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but basically, Colin is good in almost everything. This was no exception. (And yes, we are a on a first-name basis, if only in my imagination).

This is only the second book by Graham Greene I've ever read -- years ago, I read Travels with My Aunt, which I found hilarious, I saw the movie version of The End of the Affair several years ago, and I thought it was good, but not so good that I had any overwhelming desire to read the book. But simply put, this book is just brilliant.

Basically, this is the story of Maurice Bendrix. The story begins in 1946, and Bendrix (who rarely uses his first name) has just run into an acquaintance, Henry Miles, a rather dull civil servant. During the war, Bendrix, an author, struck up a friendship with Miles' wife, Sarah, in order to glean information for a character in the book he was writing. The friendship quickly turned into a torrid affair that lasted nearly the entire war, until Sarah broke it off suddenly. Bendrix was devastated and never got over it. He uses the meeting to pump Henry for information about Sarah, but things don't turn out as planned -- in fact, the results are devastating.

This book was just beautifully written, completely heartbreaking. The characters were so real, I would not be surprised if they were based on real people and experiences. The narrator, Bendrix, is really not a nice person. First of all, he's having an affair with another man's wife, and he's also selfish, self-centered, and jealously obsessed -- so much so that it's ruining what could be the happiest time of his life. Indeed, the story of a man obsessed with his former lover is really quite disturbing. Yet the writing in this book is so eloquent, so profound, that I found myself sitting in the driveway of my car just so I could listen a little longer every day. The audiobook is only six discs, which one could easily get through in a few days or a week (depending on your commute) and I couldn't decide if I should stretch it out or finish it as quickly as possible. Firth's narration is just wonderful. I don't know if he's narrated any more audiobooks but I would probably listen to anything he was reading. 

Ralph Fiennes as Bendrix in the movie version. 
I had a couple of tiny quibbles with the book, but overall, I loved it. First, the story includes long journal entries which included detailed conversations -- that always bugs me. Who remembers this sort of thing verbatim? I understand that it's a literary device, but it always annoys me. Also there's a lot religious philosophy. Without spoiling anything, one of the characters is having a huge religious/existential crisis, and after awhile the debates about religion got a little tedious. Greene was a Catholic and several of his other novels have religion prominently featured, which may not be to everyone's taste.

I'm really beginning to like mid-century novels, and I hope to read more by Graham Greene (including a reread of Travels with My Aunt, as it's been years). I've heard Our Man in Havana is also quite funny, and I'm intrigued by Orient Express -- I'm sure it's nothing like Agatha Christie's novel but I do love books set on trains. Bloggers, what other novels by Graham Greene do you recommend?

I'm counting this book as my 20th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Only one left to go and I'm finished!

10 comments:

  1. I really liked The End of the Affair when I read it late last year. The only other book by Greene that I've read is The Quiet American. I enjoyed that one as well. (I'm not a big fan of audiobooks, but I might be persuaded to give a Colin Firth narration a try...)

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    1. Colin Firth is one of the best narrators EVER. Even if it hadn't been such a wonderful book, I would listen to him. He really brought the novel to life. The Quiet American is also on my TBR list.

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  2. Travels With My Aunt and The End of the Affair are my two favorite Graham Greene novels. I didn't love The 'Stamboul Train, but I did like The Quiet American. Did he write The Heart of the Matter, too? I think that one takes place in Africa. I liked that one, too, just not as much as Travels... and End of the Affair.

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    1. He did write The Heart of the Matter, I'd like to read that one as well.

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  3. You inspired me to look for Travels With My Aunt, and this book sounds compelling too.

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    1. Thank you! I think I'd like to reread it myself. It's been a long time and I just remember thinking was hilarious.

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  4. I listened to Colin read this as well, and thought the writing beautiful but the story and characters annoying. I'm with you on the quibble about long conversations remembered and recorded verbatim.

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    1. That's one of my literary pet peeves. Seriously, how much dialogue can you remember exactly? I understand it's a device to get another perspective, but it starts to bug me after a while.

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  5. I am recent "convert" (ha ha) to Greene, having never read him until 2011, and I also enjoyed The End of the Affair. I also really liked Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and Our Man in Havana (I remember it being amusing). I haven't yet read Travels With My Aunt and I keep meaning to - maybe I will use it for next year's Back to the Classics challenge! :)

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  6. I've read 4 or 5 Greenes and have become a huge fan of his work. And I really loved The End of the Affair. Normally quoted dialogue in letters or journals annoys me as well, but I loved this book so much I don't even think it registered. Our Man in Havana is perhaps a little too satirical for my tastes but I still enjoyed it. I read it and recently listened to Jeremy Northam (another handsome Jane Austen actor) read it. He did a great job but there are some musical interludes between chapters that drove me crazy.

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