Monday, August 19, 2013

Review : The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

(Original review posted on Goodreads:- June 21, 2013)

I'm trying very badly not to launch into a full fledged rant against this book as I type this out because rants
are rarely, if ever, proper reviews. And I want to pose a rational argument explaining my dislike for this book.
As much as the sexist ramblings of the protagonist and the selfish, irrational actions of the main characters served to irritate me to a great extent, I still reigned in my impatience and held out hope for the narrative till the time I was done with the very last page. But sadly enough, the ending left me not only disappointed but positively fuming with anger.
(Spoiler ahead)

I always welcome flawed characters in literature because truly what real person is perfect? or even close to being perfect?
Characters are meant to act like morons, do things that defy logic and frustrate us and yet earn our empathy in the end simply by virtue of their being human. But forget empathy, I just did not feel an ounce of anything for the central characters here except some occasional annoyance for abruptly starting one-sided conversations with this entity called 'God'.
As is obvious from the title this is about an affair, a torrid one at that, which ends badly and its subsequent repercussions. But the author just had to drag the much hyped up subject of 'God' into this and translate his love/hate for a woman into his love/hate for 'God'. How his insatiable desire for a woman forced him to confront his own atheistic/agnostic values and come closer to acknowledging the importance of faith. Which I didn't mind that much either, really.

But how do you look the other way when every other line of a passage has either the word 'God' or 'You' or 'Him' in it and the characters are engaging in endless monologues with 'Him'? (Please pay attention to how I am deliberately overlooking the crucial debate on God's gender)
'God' is a subject that I am yet to face head on and make my peace with. But my attitude so far has been a little like Haruki Murakami's in Kafka on the Shore -

“If you think God’s there, He is. If you don’t, He isn’t. And if that’s what God’s like, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I can tolerate a healthy dose of reflections on religion, faith and worship, IF it is served with a touch of rationale and has the capacity to appeal to even the staunch non-believer. Like in a Life of Pi-ish way - nothing life-altering or too preachy but still understandable.
But I hate it when 'God' is shoved right in my face in long, winding passages replete with repetitive rhetorical questions. It's like 'He' is a character in this without being one. A passive, ubiquitous presence which steals everybody's thunder without doing a damned thing.
Was this about the affair or about 'God' or Catholicism? or was it about the author's attempt at coming to terms with the tragedy of his affair by seeking a form of oneness with 'God' and something bigger than life itself?
It's like Greene carelessly threw away chunks of the bigger picture but did not strive towards aiding the reader in stitching them all together. Which is why the book just stopped short of making a much larger impact.
If I am to take this novel only as a piece of autobiographical writing and a tribute to Greene's affair with one Lady Catherine Walston, then maybe some of my criticism automatically becomes void. But since this is a work of fiction, I think my points of contention are quite valid.
Dear 'God', you do not impress me in the least, especially when characters are citing 'You' as an excuse for their reluctance to behave like logical human beings.
Although there are few points in the narrative where the humanity of the characters shine through and one can't help but feel for their dilemma and suffering.

2 out of 5 stars.

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