'This is a record of hate far more than of love.' So muses our narrator, as he begins to relate the story of how he came to be conversing, one rain-soaked evening on the Common, with the husband of his former lover. Maurice Bendrix is a man in hate, and there in the rain we are gathered into his loneliness to begin a journey which draws us into the depths of love, jealousy, and desire. a journey which forces us to question with our narrator that much pondered theme of Greene’s work; what is it that makes us human?
It is June 1946; six years after the beginning of the adulterous affair, nearly two years since its unexplained, sudden ending. A chance meeting with Henry, the dull and inattentive husband of Sarah Miles, reignites the jealousy and passion within Bendrix for his lost love, as he hears of how Henry suspects Sarah of some current infidelity. A chain of events is thereby set in motion as Bendrix pursues his quarry, determined to understand why Sarah ended the affair and who
has replaced him in her affections. Bendrix is meticulously calculating in his methods – he engages a private detective to follow Sarah – and we begin to see, in his pursuit, the complex nature of the obsession that drives him. Closely interwoven in Bendrix are the book's opposing themes of love and hate, and we may even begin to warm to him in the depths of his suffering. Greene wants us to see the centrality of suffering in the human experience, to see pain as indispensible to a life fully realised. As Bendrix dryly states; 'happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity'.
Following the novel's multilayered and fractured nature, we dance back and forth in time as Bendrix relates the events of the passionate affair and its mysterious ending. On gaining possession of Sarah’s diary through his private snoop, he finds the reason why it abruptly ended, but his confusion is only exacerbated as we too are invited, to read her journey of the last few years. 'It’s a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved, when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or God to love.' Dismissing the reasons for Sarah’s abandonment of him, Bendrix sets out to reunite the pair. They begin again, but the affair is short-lived and brought to a tragic close. In the emotional debris that remains, hatred starts to give way to hope and to love, but love of a different kind. One starts to question who in this novel is really being pursued, and by whom?
To say more would be to spoil a beautifully crafted and profoundly moving read, for those not acquainted with this, the last of Greene’s overtly ‘catholic’ works. It is also not the place to pour over the apparent parallels between the book and the author’s own life. Let it suffice to end on a warning; Greene does not attempt to provide us with easy answers to life’s struggles. But, in the midst of the rain and suffering and hate, we too glimpse transcendent moments of pure love. But, like the characters, we too are left with more questions than we might find comfortable with The End of the Affair