This is my first exposure to Graham Greene. Two of his books have been in my personal collection for about a year now, somehow or other being pushed behind other reads until now. I do need a little preparation of mind when I venture into a new author, for I’m always nervous in such situations. However, after the read, I felt like kicking myself for keeping the book so long on my shelf.
The first thing that drew me into the book is not the story or characters, but Greene’s intense and powerful writing. He displays such rawness, such openness, and such sincerity in his writing that the readers are drawn, ensnared, and imprisoned in his words. If you consider the story, it is pretty simple. But it is only the foundation for Greene to develop all the raw human emotions one feels when a relationship ends. I read that Greene’s personal relationship with one Lady Walston inspired him to write this, so perhaps the personal experience speaks for the intensity of his writing.
The story is simple and beautiful. The first-person narrator, who is also the male protagonist, tells his story of the end of an affair; and at the same time, he goes beyond his story, laying bare all his inner conflicting emotions to his audience. The story touches thematically on love, hate, pain, jealousy, obsession, life, death, and faith. Greene has worked strongly on the themes through the relationship of the male protagonist, the writer Maurice Bendrix and the female protagonist Sarah Miles, the wife of a civil servant.
There are very few characters in the novel, and I cannot say that I truly liked any of them. But I get this queer feeling that Greene was bent upon his characters being understood rather than being liked. If that was his goal, he did achieve it brilliantly. You may find it hard to like them, but you will certainly understand them; you will feel their emotions and you will pity them.
The story is tragic, yet I enjoyed it. The ending deviates from the thematic flow of the story creating an out of sorts effect, but the overall reading experience was satisfying. I could honestly say that Graham Greene has done very well with a common theme.