Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 4. March 27, 1952
Book Review . . . — The End of the Affair — (Heinemann)
Book Review . . .
The End of the Affair
Mr. Graham Greene's latest novel is the story of a modern. Mary Magdalene. Like the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Sarah Miles abandons her lovers for the One Who, unknown and unacknowledged, had pursued her from the time she was a child, and, because, like her, she had the greatness and generosity of heart to love Him in return, she became a saint.
Mr. Greene, however, makes Sarah's sanctity implicit, and the comment of the Times Literary Supplement, that his purpose is to show how "a woman who repents her sins before she dies is a saint worthy of formal honour" demonstrates a lyrical imagination. The miracles which are the outward proofs of the sanctity of the dead woman are hushed up only too anxiously by their sceptical recipients, her husband, and her lover, and were scarcely likely to be featured in the tabloids by that grim and competent Redemptorist, Father Crompton.
The plot is concerned with the pursuit of the soul of Sarah by her Creator. Maurice Bendrix, a former lover of Sarah, and Henry Miles, her husband suspect that she has a new lover. With the aid of one of the seediest and least capable detectives in fiction they find proof of their suspicion in Sarah's own handwriting: "I have no need to write to you or talk to you, you know everything before I can speak, but when one loves, one feels the need to use the same old ways one has always used. I know I am only beginning to love..."
The remainder of the book, and its most important part, describes Bendrix' fight against a rival of whose power he is afraid, while he denies its existence, and Sarah's fear that her longing for "ordinary corrupt human love" will prove stronger than the sweetness of the pain of His love.
Mr. Greene's connotation of the word "love" has a mediaeval sound in a world which defines it usually in either the cellophane-wrapped touch-me-not attitude of the soap operas or Hollywood's identification of love with sex; he is at once adult and realistic in his treatment of passion.
The plot of the novel is a departure from his "thriller" outline, but shows as clearly as his former works his preoccupation with the nature of good and evil. No novelist in English has felt more deeply the horror of unthinking chromium-plated twentieth-century paganism, or expressed it more clearly. This is his most powerful book, though here, for the first time, he shows the good without the shadow of evil by which previously he has thrown it into relief. And, usual, his characters are as real to those who concur with the beliefs implicit in the book as to those who do not.—P.B.