I am very proud to announce that over the past 6 months I have started to use the public library properly, in a way that I haven’t for a good couple of years really since leaving University – and boy did I forget what a treat it is! There is simply nothing better (apart from being loaded with oodles of cash and going out and buying an entire library yourself) than floating down the shelves and plucking out whatever you like to read with no strings attached. I don’t know how it works in other cities but the best thing in Mancland is the fact that once you’re a proud owner of your shiny new library card, you can take a book out in any of the libraries run by the city council; happily including our own tiddly local library:
I decided to pick up Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair for two reasons; first of all because I’d always wanted to give Greene another go after being a little disappointed with Brighton Rock (not my style) and second of all because, as pointed out by my boyfriend the climber, there is a very well known rock climb in the Peak District named after this famous, albeit short and sweet, novel.
Although learning that the book became ‘Daily Mail Book of the Month’ almost took the shine off, realising this was way back in 1951 (and that the paper perhaps wasn’t the unsavoury read back then that it proves to be nowadays) restored my faith. Set in London during and directly after WWII, this is the seemingly simple story of the love triangle between clandestine lovers Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, and their (her) somewhat dull, very loyal and predictable gooseberry husband Henry; a pitiful civil servant who is apparently completely oblivious to his wife’s passions and betrayals.
As the title denotes, these few chapters explore the end of the adulterous affair that writer Bendrix has been having with his friend’s wife. For anyone who understands what it means to fall hopelessly in love with someone, this vivid portrait of intense hatred, love and all-consuming obsession touches, quite pleasurably, close to the bone. Becoming completely consumed by Sarah’s life without him after an apparently inexplicable separation, Bendrix begins to stalk the woman he loves, or rather, have a couple of amusing side-characters do the dirty work for him; in the form of the incredibly efficient and rather naive ‘Parkis’ and his little boy. Considering a mysterious relationship with outspoken atheist and public speaker Richard Smythe and an abject refusal to see a man for whom she had once risked both her marriage and reputation; Sarah’s behaviour is a complete and heart-wrenching mystery that, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed unravelling. Perhaps I can read a bit of Graham Greene after all!
That said, this book did contain some flaws for me. Although I became completely convinced by Greene’s portrayal of the vicious, jealous and obsessive emotions at play here, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Bendrix and Sarah, particularly Sarah. At times their words and actions almost seemed indifferent, but is that a sign of the times? If seeing a couple screaming and shouting at each other in the street is a bit of a shock to the system nowadays (and this does happen from time to time!) just think how utterly unacceptable it would have been to lose your composure, particularly in public, 70 years ago? Understanding 1940/50s Britain aside, Sarah was still a bit of a problem for me; her motives VERY difficult to comprehend (some of which I found completely unbelievable/random) and all in all, not my type of woman.
The warmth I found lacking in certain areas I found in abundance elsewhere. Characters on the periphery of this ruinous relationship such as the amateur inspector Parkis and Henry Miles are both amusing and touching, particularly Henry, who I simply couldn’t help but feel very sorry for, even though I presume part of the aim of this story is to challenge this predictable reaction.
The bare, wartime setting is hopelessly romantic and adds extra underlying tension to our already emotionally stretched characters. As Bendrix claims; ‘this a record of hate far more than of love’; a nasty, bitter love and a statement of fanaticism and grief. A very good read indeed.