Two of my father’s favourite writers were Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. He encouraged me to read both. I have read several of Maugham’s books, including ‘Of Human Bondage’ which I loved. However I had never read any Greene – until now.
I had seen the film of ‘The End of the Affair’ staring Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and when reading the book it was those two actors I pictured as the two main characters Bendrix and Sarah.
For those of you who don’t know the story, it is a doomed love affair between a novelist and the wife of a civil servant. Set in Clapham during the Second World War, Bendrix meets Sarah, as he is writing a book about a civil servant and wishes to find out more about her husband’s work. They embark on a passionate affair. One night while Bendrix and Sarah are together, the house is hit by a bomb. Although superficially hurt, Bendrix is fine. Sarah however leaves the house and breaks off relations without explaining why.
Jealousy and hate from Bendrix and Sarah’s tortured faith are the main themes of the book. But it is their individual relationships with God, which form the basis for much of the dialogue and angst of the story. Haven’t we all ranted and raved at God at some point in our lives? Bendrix constantly questions God, he hates him, he doesn’t believe in him. He says: “I hate you God. I hate you as though you actually exist.”
Sarah, however, is the one who is constantly questioning her faith. She is a believer and wants to believe so much, but her faith is tested to the absolute limit. She believes you don’t need to see God to believe in him. She says to Bendrix: “You needn’t be so scared. Love doesn’t end. Just because we don’t see each other…”
Although I found Bendrix’s narcissism exhausting at times, I found this an astonishing book overall. I thought Greene’s subtlety during the most dramatic moments was brilliant, while his ability to show the angst of both characters was mesmerizing.
This will definitely make me read more Graham Greene. Any suggestions which one I should read next?
Funnily enough, having just finished the novel, I was sitting watching an episode of ‘The West Wing’ which I had downloaded from Sky. I have to confess it has been my guilty pleasure over the last few months. It was episode 22 of Season 2, called ‘Two Cathedrals.’ If you haven’t watched it yet and don’t wish to hear some spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.
Anyway, President Bartlett is about to announce to the world that he has Multiple Sclerosis. He has lied to the American people and is trying to decide whether to run for a Second Term. But a few days previously, his secretary Mrs Laningham was killed in a car crash. After the funeral he stays in the church and rages against God. He actually quotes Graham Greene and says: “You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” Greene.
He then goes back to the office and there is this incredible scene where there is a huge storm and he is having an imaginary chat to Mrs Laningham, before he goes to his press conference. To add to this they play Dire Straits, ‘Brothers in Arms.’ Honestly I was watching it while a storm raged outside and it was the best bit of television I have seen in a very long time. Brilliant Stuff! If you were a fan of the West Wing I highly recommend re-visiting it. In the meantime happy reading and keep your suggestions coming.