The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

In The End of the Affair, Graham Greene tackles a nifty little challenge. “A story has no beginning or end.” But affairs do. How, then, does Greene tell a story (which is endless) about an affair (which is not)? Self-reflexively, of course. There’s simply no other way. And The End of the Affair is a wonderfully self-reflexive novel. Greene’s most important device is a writer-narrator who seduces a woman to gain insight into her husband in order to portray a civil servant in a novel he’s writing. A novelist employs a device who adopts a ruse that results in a great unmasking, of love of God, of hatred of God and plenty else in between. Empty words unless you’re familiar with the novel. But I’m not in the mood for a plot summary. Instead I’d like to share reflections on the novelist’s life as they’re found in The End of the Affair, bereft of context or explanation:

“I have never been able to describe even my fictitious characters except by their actions.”

“In a novel a reader should be allowed to imagine the character in any way he chooses: I do not want to supply him with ready-made illustrations.”

“So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days.”

“How can I disinter the human character from the heavy scene?”

“I liked her at once because she said she had read my books.”

“Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript.”

“So much of the novelist’s writing takes place in the unconscious: in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on paper.”

“If I were writing a novel I would end it here: a novel, I used to think, has to end somewhere, but I’m beginning to believe my realism has been at fault all these years for nothing in life ever seems to end.”

“Did you feel it [your last novel] was a failure?” “I feel that about all my books.”

“I hate the books I write with their trivial unimportant skill, I hate the craftsman’s mind in me so greedy for copy that I set out to seduce a woman I didn’t love for the information she could give me….”

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9 Responses to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  1. “Did you feel it [your last novel] was a failure?” “I feel that about all my books.” –Well, this is a great boost, actually. If Greene felt this way about his work, then we may all be saved. We may all be working away at things more beautiful than we can believe.

  2. Read this on Friday. I had no sort of work planned so it was perfect. I think I enjoy Greene more and more as I become older, more interested in Catholicism, and more inclined to be both a hopeless romantic and a skeptic. :)

    • A hopeless romantic and a skeptic, as good a description of the middle way of The End of the Affair as I’ve seen. Yes, it’s a great book, one I finished many weeks ago now but continue to ponder even as I go through such highly esteemed reading fare as Angels and The Death of the Adversary. Angels comes close to striking a metaphysical cord. But only close. Hope your travels are going well. Best, K

  3. Really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome, but I feel I owe you an apology. I blog so infrequently lately, not through any choice of my own. Just busy, with life stuff. I do hope one day to return in a more disciplined fashion to blogging. Once to twice a week would be ideal. Will visit your blog now. Cheers, K

  4. Bellezza says:

    Love this book, love the film, and just wanted you to know that audible.com had an audio version of it read by Colin Firth for free last week. Perhaps it’s still available…

    Wonderful quotes you posted.

  5. […] We readers often lionize novelists. That’s a shame. Just ask C. McCarthy. He won’t hang out with them. Their preoccupations pique him—or bore him. Instead he prefers the company of physicists, a dry, smart wholesome lot. C. McCarthy isn’t alone by the way. G. Greene knows writers can be bastards too—merciless craftsmen greedy for copy. Think End of the Affair. […]

  6. […] The End of the Affair (interpolations) […]

  7. […] The End of the Affair (interpolations) […]

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