End of the Affair, The
by Graham Greene (1951)
I write this from where I finished the book: in front of a dwindling fire still radiating warmth while six inches of fresh snow slowly freezes over outside. It’s an ambience that encapsulates what it is to read Graham Greene; he is everything that’s right about literature, just as where I now sit is everything that’s right about winter.
There’s something supremely comforting about placing yourself in the hands of an indisputable master. Your astonishment in the first few pages at the magnificent prose — the singular imagery and metaphors, the innovative phrasing that seems simultaneously ground-breaking and familiar — quickly transforms into cozy satisfaction as you continue stumbling onto one marvelous revelation after another.
This is now my fifth Greene novel and also the best. The way he slowly uncovers the underlying reality of Bendrix’s affair with Sarah Miles — and subsequent events that elevate its termination to an altogether mystical level — is literally jaw-dropping and eyebrow-raising (i.e., I did both at the same time on several occasions).
It may not be as continually entertaining as The Quiet American but it’s more powerful and thus more important. It may not be as visually evocative as The Power and the Glory but it’s more emotional. Its treatment of Catholicism is more subtle and accessible to outsiders than in Monsignor Quixote or The Heart of the Matter. If there’s a defect in its writing I am unable to detect it.
This man is a treasure of literary fiction. Every book of his I read further confirms his place among my absolute favorite authors. Something gives me the impression that he is not only one of the all-time great novelists, but also one of the routinely underappreciated. There may not be much flash to him, but I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who can compete in terms of consistent craftsmanship and depth of character. Maybe Faulkner or Steinbeck, but that’s about it.
There’s not much else to say. This is a must-read classic for any- and everyone. This or Quiet American is where I’d recommend a Graham Greene virgin to take the plunge.