by Graham Grene
6 hours 28 minutes
Originally published 1951
Years ago I remember catching snippets of the 1999 film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair. The film starred Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore and there was one scene has a permanent spot in my memory. It’s when Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) puts stockings and shoes on Sarah Miles (Moore). He tells her he’s jealous of her stockings, of her buttons and of her shoes and it’s one of the most romantic and heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever been privileged to witness (you can read the lines from that scene here ).
Fast forward to 2012 when Audible announced their A-List line of celebrity narrated classic and literary audio books. I signed up for Audible so I could download Anne Hathaway’s narration of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (read my review here) and Colin Firth’s narration of The End of the Affair. Both proved to be incredibly listening experiences!
The film plays up more of the love affair between Maurice and Sarah. The book stays true to it’s title and focuses strictly on the end of their affair. The story takes place during World War II in London. Maurice will do anything to possess Sarah. He’s a novelist who has more control with the imaginary worlds he creates in his writing than with real life. Sarah Miles is a gentle woman, in love with Maurice but still devoted to her mild-mannered husband Henry. Sarah abruptly ends their affair when in a moment of despair she promises God she’ll end the affair if only Maurice survived the bombing. Maurice doesn’t know this and is convinced that Sarah is having an affair with someone else. He hires a detective, reads her diary and is constantly obsessing over every minute detail of their affair and of her life.
“We are possessed by nobody, not even by ourselves.”
We as the reader are drawn in to Maurice’s story of jealousy and obsession. This novel is taut with emotion and we become fully enveloped in this beautifuly written yet haunting and dark story. The prose is magical, the characters feel real and the story is exquisite. Colin Firth’s narration is one of the best I’ve ever heard. He won the Audie Award for Best Audio Book of 2013 and it’s well-deserved (it was also nominated for Best Solo Narration - Male and Best Literary Fiction Audio). Die-hard Firth fans will swoon when they listen to this!
The End of the Affair is referred to as one of Graham Greene’s Catholic novels and religion, personal belief, tradition and atheism are all explored. The theme of religion becomes much more important at the end of the novel. I didn’t quite understand why this was considered a Catholic novel until I got to the last third of the book. The book is also loosely based on Graham Greene’s real life affair with Lady Catherine Walston as well as his own struggles with converting to Catholicism.
I highly recommend this book if you like beautiful prose with intense emotion. The scene I loved from the movie ended up not being in the book which I didn't mind. The movie played up the romance and the book focused on the end of the affair which seems to be fitting for both mediums.