Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

"The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene (Vintage Classics 2012)

First published in 1951.

The first-person narrator, Maurice, is a novelist who befriended Sarah Miles as part of his research for a novel because it included a character like her husband, Henry. Maurice and Sarah subsequently had an affair. The novel was never published, and the affair finished after a V1 nearly killed Maurice (Sarah, who'd been in bed with him moments before thought he was dead).

This novel begins with Sarah and Henry separately confiding in Maurice, worried about each other. Maurice offers to hire a private detective to see if Sarah's having an affair. Henry's not interested but Maurice does it anyway. The detective's report includes a description of Maurice's meeting with Sarah. Later, Sarah goes with Maurice to see the film adaption of one of his books - an event which they both treat very dispassionately.

Maurice wants to rekindle the romance. There are rapid time switches as events the second time around remind him of earlier events. Then we get to see Sarah's diaries (stolen by the detective for Maurice), from which we learn that she'd intended to leave Henry for Maurice, and there are passages like "It's as if we were working together on the same statue, cutting it out of each other's misery. but I don't even know the design" (p.108). Then she dies.

Some metafiction ploys are used - a detective is compared to a novelist, and the novel might be referred to by its characters

  • "a detective must find it as important as a novelist to amass his trivial material before picking out the right clue ... Now that I come to write my own story the problem is still the same, but worse - there are so many more facts, now that I have not to invent them" (p.25)
  • "'Every time she wasn't there when I came home those last months I dreaded to see a letter waiting for me "Dear Henry" ... you know the kind of thing they write in novels?' 'Yes.'" (p.207). Earlier in the novel there was just such a letter.

It's suggested (perhaps too many times) that opposites aren't as far apart as they appear - "hate" is compared to "love", and strident atheism to belief. At the end there's a religious/atheist subplot that's unconvincing both on a character level (its suddenness, and that it affects more than one character) and as narrative development. I wasn't impressed as a whole by the book.

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