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on 31 July 2017
The language, behaviour and circumstances of the characters in this book are certainly of its time (and class), a superb read. However, I did find it a little odd but very enjoyable.
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on 29 August 2017
Greene at his most eloquent.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 14 August 2017
When Bendrix meets Henry in the park by chance one rainy night, it takes him back to the time, a couple of years earlier, when he was having an affair with Henry's wife, Sarah. Now Bendrix is bitter – she left him and he has never really understood why. And Henry, unaware of their affair, now tells him that he thinks Sarah may be seeing someone else. All the old feelings brought to the surface, Bendrix feels he must know – did Sarah ever love him? Or was he just one in a long line of men...

This is a book of two halves for me. The first half is quite wonderful. It's a study of how jealousy and insecurity can lead someone to destroy the very love that is causing those emotions, and how easily a failed love can turn to bitterness, even hatred. Bendrix, the first person narrator, is arrogant and can be cruel, but he is also self-aware, which makes him tolerable if not likeable. The writing is fantastic from the very first sentences – lean and direct. Greene never tells us anything – he lets his characters speak for themselves, though we see them mostly through the filter of Bendrix's jumble of emotions. Greene understands the vulnerability that comes with love, the weakness and insecurity that can cause us to seek excuses in advance for love's failure, and, by doing so, create that failure through our own actions. There are occasional passages of pathos, done with a simplicity that makes them deeply moving without ever verging on the mawkish.

I listened to Colin Firth's narration of the book and he does a superb job, making it feel both tense and intense. He doesn't 'act' the dialogue, but uses the subtlest shifts in tone to convey the different characterisations. All the anger and bitterness is there on the surface, but he lets us hear the sorrow and love that still underlie those emotions. It's not at all surprising that he won the Audie Award for Best Solo Narration for this in 2013.

Unfortunately the second half fell away sharply for me and I'll have to be vague about the reasons why in order to avoid spoilers. Many of Greene's books reflect his own personal struggle with faith and his strange relationship with the Catholic Church, and this book is no exception. But whereas in other novels – The Heart of the Matter, The Power and the Glory – I've found that both interesting and moving, in this one somehow it all feels forced and rather... OK, I've tried to think of a better word, but the one that suits is... silly. I hold my hands up – I'm a life-long atheist and that may have affected how I felt about it. But I actually don't think it's that – it seems to me the way Greene handles the religious aspects in this one is crass, and I think I'd feel that way even if I were a believer.

So, in short, what starts as a wonderfully truthful depiction of love, jealousy and grief, turns into a superficial and incredible account of some kind of religious revelation. My real problem with it is that I have been saying for many years that The Heart of the Matter is one of my favourite books, and now I'm scared to re-read it in case Scobie's struggles with his faith strike me in the same way. In other words, perhaps it’s this book, or perhaps I’ve just become too cynical for this kind of shallow, sentimental mysticism.
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on 26 February 2016
Classic book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 April 2017
One of the most striking things about Graham Greene’s 1951 masterpiece is how the author manages to evoke so many deeply profound themes – love, hate, life, death, faith – in so few words (both written here and spoken by his characters), the Vintage version of the novel running to a mere 160 pages. Not only that, but the novel’s evocation of the period (spanning WW2) comes across as spot on and highly memorable – notably, via the respectful, semi-comic subservience of the private detective, Parkis, and by the staid, formal (Civil Service) milieu inhabited by one of Greene’s trio of conflicted protagonists, Henry Miles. In fact, Henry is probably the most predictable element in Greene’s tale, fitting the persona of emotionally-repressed, career-obsessed Whitehall mandarin to a tee, whilst the raw, impassioned pairing of Sarah’s mercurial wife to Henry and the tormented, self-centred (supposedly autobiographical) author (and first-person narrator) Maurice Bendrix, are a good deal more complex to fathom. And, therein lies one of the novel’s greatest strengths. Greene’s exploration of human weakness, selfishness, compromise, guilt, etc. is uncompromising, giving a hard-edged realism to his characters and the central dichotomy between human and spiritual love, and allowing Maurice to find some kind of skewed solace in his feelings of resentment and hatred. It’s just about as far as you can get from syrupy romance, but is no less moving for all that.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 April 2014
I fell in love with this book from the first page, the beautiful writing far outweighs the somewhat depressing underlying story of the end of the affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah. This tale is told from the protagonist’s viewpoint, interestingly, some years after this defining mark in his life and it is quickly apparent that Bendrix (he is a man known by his surname) is still trying to make sense of the strong feelings, of both love and hate he still harbours.

The quality of Graham Greene’s writing was simply brilliant. My copy had an introduction by Monica Ali that I was reading out of curiosity soon after receiving the book and despite already having started another book I turned to the first page and I simply couldn’t stop reading, fortunately this is a fairly slim book at only 160 pages or so.

So if the quality of the writing that had me hooked, this was closely followed by the description of life in London at the time of, and immediately after, the Second World War which for me was fascinating. Parkis the Private Detective who along with his son trail Sarah on Bendrix’s behest, finds the person she is visiting by the powdering of a doorbell which is so much more romantic than rummaging through her rubbish or hacking into Facebook.

This book is as the back cover says ‘One of the most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language’ William Faulkner. The truth is in part because this novel holds up as a mirror a myriad of human actions that all of us have surely observed, and too many of us have participated in…
How quickly love can turn from:
“…the moment of absolute trust and absolute pleasure, the moment when it was impossible to quarrel because it was impossible to think.”
to
“I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour.”
When at this point Bendrix begins sabotaging the affair, pressing Sarah for more, imagining her unfaithfulness with others can only hasten the end that he so fears.

I struggled more with the aspect of Catholicism that threads through the book, there is lots of philosophising about God which would normal have me closing the book, but because this was a book I was experiencing rather than simply ‘reading’ the quote that follows made me think more deeply about why encountering strong religious views has the power to affect me so much as much as it does…

“I hate you, God. I hate you as though you actually exist.”

I am going to finish my review here (because I need to stop somewhere and I could write about this book for ages) with a simply statement: if you haven’t read this book, you should, there is simply so much power packed between the pages of this slim novel it blew me away and I know that this is one book I will be re-reading very soon.
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on 18 July 2017
still reading it but finding it really, really boring. Will probably give up although I am half way through and keep thinking it will improve !!
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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2013
The tortured story of Maurice Bendrix's love for Sarah Miles. This novel was apparently a reflection of Greene's own tumultuous love life and he explores the relationship between love, hate, jealousy and admiration. But above all he delves into our relationship with God and how this relationship exists whether or not we believe in Him.

During wartime in London Bendrix and Sarah are having a passionate affair. But following his near death in a bomb blast Sarah breaks off the relationship and Bendrix becomes filled with rage and jealousy. Several years later he agrees to help Sarah's husband to find out if she is being unfaithful to him as she keeps disappearing at odd times with no explanation.

This was hardly the most cheerful or uplifting book I have read all year but it was still very difficult to put down. While none of the three central characters are very likeable the secondary characters are all remarkable. Greene has the knack of introducing characters who worm their way into our consciousness so at by the end we feel we really know them. The private investigator, Parkis and his ailing son, Lance, are both wonderful creations who ultimately play a pivotal role in the plot. The rationalist Smythe could have been simply a comic character but he is treated sympathetically and is rather likeable.

It is certainly a passionate book - but it also contains elements of savagery and cruelty as well as insights into the social behaviour of the time.
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on 9 January 2010
Like another reviewer, this is my favourite of Greene's books, and one I reread every 5 years or so.

The familiar Greene territory is all here - betrayal, guilt, responsibility, sin and redemption, and the uneasy, unwilling nature of faith, belief and spiritual identity

Unlike the works which are set in foreign or exotic locations, this book is set in a more pedestrian territory, blitz torn London, and whilst 'the affair' of the book is ostensibly one that happens between a man and a woman, the underneath or overriding affair or relationship is that between a man/woman and his or her understanding of God.

This is a very common theme for Greene, and of course mirrors his own relationship with his faith - never easy, never taken for granted, always a sense of the soul wrangling with an accommodation with Divinity.

This is a wonderful and often bleak book, and, with a female as well as a male central character, and the relationship between the sexes as pivotal, it may speak to anyone who has ever fallen in love and found themselves caught in a minefield of conflicting loyalties, secrecy and deception
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on 25 October 2009
It's a delight to see so many 5 and 4-star reviews for this book. Greene was a complicated man, and if his biographers are to be believed, a compromised man whose loyalties were tried and tested beyond the ken of most mortals. Perhaps that's why fidelity, betrayal and trust are such constants in his work.
Admirers of craft will find much in here to ponder - the construction is intricate and beautifully balanced, but never interrupts the unfolding of the story. You don't have to find the plot in the slightest believable as Greene uses the protagonist to voice such concerns in advance - indeed, scepticism is a central theme of the book and the author plays with it, inviting the reader to side with the incredulous, thus guaranteeing interest in the outcome.
Highly recommended.
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