The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah, flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. After a chance meeting rekindles his love and jealousy two years later, Bendrix hires a private detective to follow Sarah, and slowly his love for her starts to turn into an obsession.
First published: 1951
When introducing the Contemporary Writing course I’m following, my teacher said something along the lines of: “This is my first time teaching this course, and I replaced all the novels they had to read last year with ones I chose myself. So now you get to read all these cool books! And The End of the Affair, I’m sorry about that.”
That was my introduction to this novel, and with that in the back of my mind I started reading. I wasn’t completely biased from the start, I thought something like “it can’t be that bad judging from the blurb”, but I quickly figured out this book wasn’t going to be the easiest or smoothest read ever (despite being very well-written). I got quite frustrated with the protagonist, Maurice Bendrix, early on in the novel and that feeling didn’t go away.
You see, the blurb (see above) isn’t entirely accurate. It says “and slowly his love for her starts to turn into an obsession”. However, it becomes quite clear to the reader that Bendrix has always been obsessed with Sarah, who is married to a civil servant named Henry, but proclaims to never have loved him the way she loves Bendrix. Bendrix’s love for her seems to me to b e quite unhealthy and entirely based on jealousy. He also blames Sarah for her lack of jealousy, and picks fights with her because of that over and over again.
I measured love by the extent of my jealousy, and by that standard of course she could not love me at all.
All in all, Bendrix is just a very unpleasant and unlikeable character. However, despite my annoyances I am also impressed with the way Greene portrays him. There is a rawness and an honesty to the story that is very admirable. The reader sees the story mostly through Bendrix’s eyes (although there are also some diary entries from Sarah), as he is writing down what happened after it all happened. He starts of his story by saying it’s a story about hate; he says he hates Sarah for leaving him and he claims there can be no hate without love, and vice versa:
Hating Sarah is only loving Sarah, and hating myself is only loving myself.
Bendrix is an extremely bitter man, and even after finishing the book I haven’t made up my mind about what I think of it exactly; I’m wavering between frustration and admiration. It was an interesting read with lots of beautiful quotes I should’ve written down, but will I ever want to read it again? Probably not.
The story made me grumpy, annoyed and frustrated with the characters, and I can’t say I particularly liked it, but it was thought provoking and I am glad I did read it.