The End of the Affair (Asteroid Books) by Graham Greene

Notes, dja

José Emilio Pacheco spoke of a kind of catalepsy in the circulation of the authors’ books after they themselves have died. Pacheco said, talking with him, that in some cases, when someone remembered them and reissued them, those authors reappeared much better. Gardel’s law, which sings better every day, that law applies to Graham Greene (1904-1991), who is now resurrected thanks to Asteroid Books. I confess that I took it with fear that the memory of my pleasant, free readings of Graham Greene would crumble at a time when the 20th century did not even think about ending.

And no. The end of the affair is, continues to be, a magnificent novel and those who recognized it at the time of its appearance in 1951 were not mistaken. For example, a certain William Faulkner said that it is “one of the most authentic and moving novels of my time. ”. And John Updike recognized it as “a novel as deep, intense and disturbing as a penetrating gaze.”

I usually repeat that in the novels of the nineteenth century one always finds one of these three things: or adultery, or gambling or fainting ladies. So what is new is a 20th century writer daring one of the super themes of the previous century. All the more reason to reaffirm that the best storytellers of the 20th are those who seem from the 19th century, like Maugham, like Buzzati, like Canetti, like García Márquez, and more. Now, true to his century, to the twentieth, what Greene does is approach adultery as Tolstoy did, or Fontane, or Flaubert. Or rather: using the narrative techniques of the nineteenth century, Greene writes a novel with a theme of the same century but with a focus on his own time, the Second World War; in fact, Sarah and Maurice make love under the German bombings of London.

The narrator of the novel, who is Sarah’s lover, has features of Greene himself: he is a novelist who acts as a novelist while telling the story, giving the writing a kind of self-awareness, of immanence: “I doubt that I would have taken the bother to meet him [se refiere a Henry, el marido cornudo] or to Sarah, if in 1939 I hadn’t started writing a novel that had a high-ranking official as its protagonist (…). Henry James said that a girl with enough talent just needed to walk past the Royal Guard regiment window and peek into the dining room to write a novel about the entire brigade, but I’m afraid at some point in that process the girl would find it necessary to sleep with one of the guards to get the details right. Not that I got to sleep with Henry, but I did do the closest thing to it, and the first night I took Sarah out to dinner I had the deliberate, cold-blooded purpose of studying the mind of Henry’s wife. a high official ”.

The first sentence of the novel alludes to the job of telling: “a story has neither beginning nor end: one arbitrarily chooses a moment of experience from which to look forward or backward. I have said ‘one chooses’, with the vague pride of the professional writer who, on the few occasions when he has been taken seriously, has been praised for his technical expertise ”.

And that trade is approached –revealingly and in the first place– from its most gray routine; It says like this in a paragraph recommended for writing exercises and workshops: “For twenty years I have produced five hundred words a day, five days a week. I can write a novel a year, and that leaves me time for revision and corrections (…). I’ve always been very methodical, and when I meet my work quota, I interrupt it even though I’m in the middle of a scene. “

Also, self-reflective, he reveals the metamorphosis of the emotions that dominate him while recounting his affair with Sara. At first, very emphatically, he defines his narration like this: “this is a story of hate much more than love” and admits that “what he most wanted in the world was to hurt Sarah (…). It was as if I knew that the only way to hurt him was to hurt myself. ” When he takes the third part of the story, he reveals his doubts: “When I started writing I said that this was a hate story, but now I’m not entirely sure.” And in the end she admits that “when I started to write our story, I thought I had started to write a hate story, but somehow the hate has dissipated and all I know is that she, despite her failures and despite her inconstancy, he was much better than most men ”.

The edition that I comment has a cherry on the cake, a note from Mario Vargas Llosa about this novel. He begins by placing El final del affaire among the three novels “in which he got closer to the masterpiece he never wrote.” The other two are The Power and the Glory and The Reverse of the Plot. He emphasizes that all three “revolve around religion, the problem of faith and, more specifically, the drama that being Catholic means in the modern world.”

For Vargas Llosa: “in truth, the deep theme of El final del affaire, which Bendrix’s tortured relationship with Sarah serves to illustrate, is whether God exists and whether his existence, as conceived by Catholic theology, is compatible with a life that does not demand heroism, holiness from believers, that congenial with the ups and downs of normality ”. The Peruvian immediately adds that “the answer that the novel offers to this inquiry is enigmatic, or, rather, left to the reader (…). It is not surprising that the novel raised the hair of a prince of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Griffin, who, according to Greene in A sort of life, called him to Westminster Cathedral to tell him, outright, that the book should be excommunicated. for the Holy Office ”.

One interpretation of the causes of Sarah’s breakup with Maurice Bendrix is ​​that she feels sinful for this adultery, presumably the faith she has just regained. Thus, without irony, frankly, he tells his lover: “I believe that there is a God, I believe in the whole string of lies, there is none that does not believe me, and even if they divided the Trinity into twelve parts, I would I would still believe it. If a document were discovered that proved that Jesus was an invention of Pilate, that he needed a promotion and got it thanks to that deception, I would still believe in Jesus. My faith has rubbed off on me like a disease. I have fallen in faith just as I fell in love before. I have never loved anyone as I love you, and I have never believed in anything as I do now. “

It is after the breakup that Maurice, full of hatred for her and himself, by some not very decent means comes to read Sarah’s diary. And he confesses: “I discovered, when I opened the newspaper, that nothing was as I expected (…). It is very rare to discover that they love you ”, yes, he realizes, despite his doubts, that she loves him. She writes it like this in her diary: “He is jealous of the past, the present and the future. His love is like a medieval chastity belt: only when he is with me, inside me, does he feel safe ”.

Apart from Sarah, who for Vargas Llosa is “the best female character in his entire work”, it is worth highlighting the particular relationship that is being created between Maurice and Henry, which Vargas Llosa calls “unexpected and endearing complicity”, and that from before also It caught the attention of Evelyn Waugh: “the relationship between the lover and the husband is especially moving and beautiful, with a peculiar mixture of pity, hatred, camaraderie, jealousy and contempt that is superbly described.”

Sometimes the compulsive highlighter pencil feasts on certain authors who are masters of involuntary aphorism, lost, seemingly muffled by more words, and who suddenly shine without altering the rhythm of the narrative. Here are some highlights from The End of the Affair:

– “There are certain classes of importance that are inevitably condemned not to be taken seriously.”

– “Sometimes I see myself too reflected in others. That fills me with anxiety, and then I feel a great desire to believe in saints and heroic virtues ”.

– “Jealous lovers are more respectable and less ridiculous than jealous husbands. They have the support of great literature ”.

– “When a woman occupies one’s thoughts throughout the day, it is best never to dream of her.”

– “For a detective it is just as important as for a novelist to accumulate a material full of trivia before choosing the correct clue. But how difficult it is to choose that track and find out which is the right theme ”.

– “Hatred seems to act on the same glands as love; it even generates the same acts ”.

– “When one is happy, one is willing to endure any kind of discipline.”

– “Unhappiness is much easier to narrate than happiness.”

– “It is said that eternity is not an extension of time but an absence of time.”

– “Sometimes I have wondered if eternity, after all, will be nothing more than the infinite prolongation of the moment of death.”

– “Insecurity is the worst thing a lover can feel; sometimes even the most boring and arid marriage seems much more desirable. “

– “When you have lost all hope is when you pray for a miracle. Miracles happen to the desperate, don’t they? ”.