Here is the first book to be reviewed that I have read since I started the blog. (I have read a few others, but I liked this one most.)
My local library had a book sale, mostly books donated for the purpose to raise the library some money. So I went and browsed around and found an exceptionally beat up copy of The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It is so beat up that I keep it in a bull clip so I don’t lose half the pages. (Fortunately, it only cost me a quarter.) My triumph was complete when I read the book, it is truly a treasure.
The books center is expressed in Sarah’s diary, after she has died, and the narrator Bendrix is reading it. ‘O God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean?’
The plot generally is this. The narrator is Bendrix (last name), an author who sets out to tell the story of his hate for a former mistress, her husband, and perhaps ‘that one other’. The story is so subtle at the beginning that by missing the import of one or two words here and there, or just by missing the words themselves, one might never guess that God is involved at all. It starts with the spite filled Bendrix agreeing to have a private investigator follow his former mistress, so that her husband doesn’t have to go. He does this, and all his future actions out of spite and hate. But he wonders, as does several others, where the hate and the love begin and end. He remakes contact with Sarah (A serial adulteress, who for some reason, love? Remains married to her husband throughout.) and Sarah dies. I am not really giving away anything about the story by saying that, the story is about Bendrix’ hate, not Sarah’s death.
Although the feel of the story is quite different, the book deals with the same idea as Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. The major difference is this: in Till We Have Faces, Orual thinks her hate is love, and here, Bendrix (and Sarah too) seems to think his love is hate. Both deal with the sinfulness of un-sanctified human love, but The End of the Affair more boldly paints the idea that strong emotions overlap with their opposites. The idea that one would not Hate a God that you believed did not exist. One might have a distaste for that non-existent god, but one could not hate him. However, one can hate the God that does exist, and in this age of unbelief, Hate can very well be the first step to adoration.
One last interesting observation, one more reason to read the book, is to think about how God might use sinful human passion to bring his elect to himself. There is a particularly potent entry in Sarah’s diary that I will abridge for here. That way you can enjoy thinking about it before you read the book (which you should do… )
‘Did I ever love Maurice (Bendrix) as much before I loved You? Or was it really You I loved all the time? … For he gave me so much love and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn’t anything left when we’d finished but You. For either of us. I might have taken a lifetime spending a little love at a time, doling it out here and there, on this man and that. … You were there, teaching us to squander, like You taught the rich man, so that one day, we might have nothing left except this love of You.’
The book, Sarah’s faith, (and Grahame Green in general) makes me think of a verse from Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse.
Belief that grew of all beliefs
One moment back was blown
And belief that stood on unbelief
Stood up iron and alone.