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Graham Greene: The End of the Affair

Initially, this novel looked like being a fairly straightforward story about an adulterous affair. Single man meets couple. Has affair with wife. Wife eventually ends the affair for an unknown reason. Man becomes friendly with husband. Husband says that there is something strange with wife and is considering having her followed. However, man decides to arrange this himself and finds out that she might be having an affair with another man. There is, of course, a twist. But Greene, a Catholic, adds in another twist, namely God or, at least, the idea of God.

Maurice Bendrix is a moderately (very moderately) successful novelist during World War II. He is single and lives in a bedsit on the wrong side of the Common (Clapham Common?) in London. He meets a couple, Henry and Sarah Miles. He is writing a novel featuring a senior civil servant and as Henry is a senior civil servant (in the Ministry of Pensions), decides to ask Sarah about him. One thing leads to another… Sarah has no children and does not have a job, while Henry is very much absorbed in his work. Suddenly, in 1944, she ends the affair. Maurice thinks it is because he has become as boring as Henry. However, when he bumps into Henry eighteen months later he, like Henry, begins to suspect that Sarah might have another lover. Henry had suggested having her followed but then backed off but Maurice hires a detective. The detective is called Parkis and he, aided by his twelve-year old son, leads him to a suspect, Richard Smythe. Parkis and Maurice have, of course, got everything wrong, jumping to conclusions that are not valid. Parkis manages to steal Sarah’s diary and it is then that we realize that Sarah’s motives are related to God.

Neither Sarah nor Maurice are in any way religious. Her mother is Catholic and, apparently, had Sarah baptized into the Catholic Church when Sarah was two, more to spite her husband, Sarah’s father, than for any real religious reasons but this was an incidental event, which seemingly had no influence on Sarah in later life. Yet, God, almost surreptitiously, sneaks into both of their lives, with both Sarah and then Maurice (separately) making major decisions based on what God might want, almost despite themselves. It almost does not come off but Greene just about manages it and you can – just – accept that both their lives have changed and are motivated by the influence of God. Of course, Greene is a wonderful story-teller and the story of the on-again off-again relationship between Sarah and Maurice, the story of Henry and Maurice’s strange relationship and the slightly odd but interesting role that Parkis and his son play all add to making this a more serious but equally interesting novel to its predecessors.

Publishing history

First published 1951 by Heinemann