Sunday, 17 January 2010

52 for 2010 #2

I've never read a Graham Greene novel before, and I'm not sure that The End of the Affair was the right one to start with. It's a semi-autobiographical work, in which the narrator relates the details of a love affair he once conducted with a married woman in post-WW2 London. Needless to say, it's a rather personal novel: Greene, a Catholic convert from the age of 23, uses the lead characters' powerful feelings of jealousy and guilt to explore the nature of religious faith and the individual's relationship with God.

One section consists entirely of journal entries in which the heroine performs the diaristic equivalent of putting cigarettes out on herself for 20 pages: "I'm a bitch and a fraud!" "Oh, God, I don't believe in you but I hate you!" (I paraphrase, or do I?). Off-putting as much of this is, for a variety of reasons, Greene probes some uncomfortable verities. His alter ego reacts violently and irrationally against all mention of religion, particularly when it entails the conspicuously miraculous; at one point he decides not to investigate an apparent faith healing in case it turns out to be genuine. It would be easy enough to dismiss episodes of this sort as mere novelistic inventions, but then the real world offers up more than its share of the unexplained (and unexplainable?) on a regular basis.

Greene's writing, which is clear and relatively unadorned (wasn't it he who famously proscribed adverbs?), evokes an austere world in which passion flares beneath the surface, requiring systematic deception in order to be fulfilled. An unfamiliar world, indeed; these days we're only too happy to telegraph our desires, and the idea of God as a confidant, a sharer of wicked secrets, has lost some of its power.

All in all, I found the book by turns unsettling and perplexing. Maybe it'll make more sense when I fall in love, although, to be honest, it's rather put me off the idea.

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