Graham Greene’s After the Affair

The other book I read this weekend was Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. This book explores some of the themes of loss, commitment, and Catholicism that later show up in The Comedians, but it’s less mature in many ways. The story is less believable, and the rushed ending is irritating. Overall, though, it’s a an extremely moving account of love gone badly wrong. Many people group Greene with fellow Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, and After the Affair is often compared to Brideshead Revisited. But, Greene was temperamentally far better equipped to realistically write about sex than Waugh, and this book shows it. There are some hauntingly beautiful passages in the book, particularly the diary excerpts that constitute the center of the book’s plot. My favorite quote, though, is the following passage on unhappiness and happiness:

“The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem to be aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egoism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity. The words of human love have been used by the saints to describe their vision of God, and so, I suppose, we might use the terms of prayer, meditation, contemplation to explain the intensity of the love we feel for a woman. We too surrender memory, intellect, intelligence, and we too experience the deprivation, the noche oscura, and sometimes as a reward a kind of peace. The act of love itself has been described as the little death, and lovers sometimes experience too the little peace. It is odd to find myself writing these phrases as though I loved what in fact I hate. Sometimes I don’t recognize my own thoughts. What do I know of phrases like ‘the dark night’ or of prayer, who have only one prayer? I have inherited them, that is all, like a husband who is left by death in the useless possession of a woman’s clothes, scents, pots of cream . . . And yet there was this peace . . .”

For my thoughts on The Comedians, see my post Let Us Go Up to Jerusalem and Die with Him

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