miércoles, 9 de julio de 2008

The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene

Anyone who has lived in London could place the Common that forms a geographical centrepiece in The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the particular place one thinks it is, because it’s what happens in the houses at or near its periphery that is central to the book. And the relationships between man and woman, between classes, between interests could be anywhere.

Maurice Bendrix is a resident of the suburban, unfashionable, southern extremity of the open space. He has rented rooms in which he labours over his writing. He is a novelist with several books and some critical acclaim to his name. He is a passionate man, a sceptic, perhaps in every sense, and he is nothing less than scheming in the way that he manipulates friends, acquaintances and probably anyone in order to conduct his research, and perhaps to secure his other interests as well. It was during one such foray into the mind of a fictional civil servant he was trying to invent that he began to see Sarah Miles. She was the wife of a real civil servant and the affair was constructed to enter her husband’s mind, though it took a more conventional initial route.

Sarah and Henry, her ministry mandarin husband, live in a large freehold on the fashionable north side of the Common. One feels that, left entirely to his own devices, Maurice would not have a great deal in common with the lifestyle of the Miles household. But when he meets Sarah, he finds a passionate woman whose devotion to the institution of her marriage is not matched by the satisfaction she derives from it. Sarah’s frustrations are great, her needs are obvious, and the affair with Maurice ignites.

Their passionate, highly physical affair lasts some years. One day in 1944, however, a robot bomb lands outside Maurice’s house and he is injured in the blast. Initially Sarah thinks he is dead. Then, somehow, their relationship ends, maybe because she seems almost disappointed that he has survived. They see nothing of one another for two years.

Maurice, of course, assumes she has moved on to richer pastures, to another more novel lover, who can satisfy her demands in new, less committed ways. He hires a private detective to check on her. He talks to her husband and others with whom she has been acquainted. What he discovers is a surprising change of direction in her life and her priorities, a change that neither he nor Sarah’s husband can either explain or accept.

Ultimately The End Of The Affair is about the space between people. Relationships are always limited, no matter how intimately they are shared. The Common, the geographical space between Maurice and Sarah, becomes a symbol of the no man’s land that must be crossed when people interact. We enter into this territory when it is our intention to go part-way to meet the psyche of another, but perhaps we never really leave home. The territory can only be entered, but probably not crossed, when there is mutuality, at least a partially shared desire to meet in the unsafe space. But it remains a position that can be retracted, a space that can be abandoned at will.

But what emerges in The End Of the Affair is that this space is specific to particular relationships. Scratch the surface of a different association of that same person, and it will reveal a different territory, perhaps not even sharing recognisable landmarks with the first. Perhaps, therefore, we project onto others what we want them to be. Perhaps relationships are never really shared, and remain at best pragmatic and, more likely, ultimately selfish. In the end, The End Of The Affair suggests that they are not, but it is only a suggestion.

View this book on amazon
The End of the Affair (Vintage Classics)

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