The End of the Affair– A Belated Book Review

The End of the Affair, A Novel By Graham Greene (Soon to be a Book Review by Margot St Aubin)

Reading this book is like watching an artichoke bloom. At first it is grotesque and cold, but intriguing because of your singular host. Driven by desire, he chills himself raw to distance himself from the tide of his ravenous desires. But he is driven to act on them.

The early bud of an artichoke doesn’t look much, nor like what you find in a grocery store. At first it’s a tiny knot, then it expands, revealing a warty surface, almost made of scales. Then, it elongates, and you discover it is covered with sharp broad spades. The spades become spikes, then sharp flexible blades.

This is how our narrator met his beloved, by looking for another man to look down on.

By Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

He is a monster of appetite, grasping to find what is good. Each moment love is nearly caught, but slips away, ending in the agony of boredom and need.   He pursues cruelly, with a sense of competition, collecting the perceived pains and struggle like treasure. Each is a marker to some greater battle that he is only half aware.  You keep asking yourself, why do I give a damn?  How could he love? If the affair is over, why am I reading about a dead thing?

Bud development is a gradual thing, observed over something like 10 or 12 days, perhaps as long as a month. There is a fairly long window to harvest.  It is every bit as deliberate as that a flower relies on the power of attraction.

By Patchallel (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

It pays to remember that an artichoke was the result, when a primitive Italian beheld a thistle and said, “ I want to eat that.”

This early part is deceptive, as it seems so simple, so modern, so beastly. Later on, you are given the key of a desert, but you start with the petty desires of an observer who thinks himself better than the tax collector– the public servant.  But he only thinks he is a detached observer. In a sense, he is right. But like any narrator, he participates in the story inspite of himself.

Finally, he  gets what he wants. He has possession of the answers. All that has nagged him, his desire for the innermost thoughts of this object of all desire. It is in the form of a book. Finally it is opened and read.  It is one long torrid love letter to God.

By Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole thing balloons like a puffer fish. First the bud swells, then the blades come out to meet opposition. Sharp tines stay pointed outward, until some internal signal is met. Then the blades relax somewhat, the tines break and fall. You are left with an alligatored set of overlapping teeth that turn dull in the sunshine. Here is where you find your vegetable in the grocery section.  If you keep watching,  the tip of the thing contracts, puckers, splits, then bursts, spilling out shocking tassels of scarlet.  Over the course of an hour, the color cools,  softens then deepens to royal purple velvet.

By Little Mountain 5 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

I can only hold up one flash of genius. He can rewrite the exact same two paragraphs twice, and each has a different meaning in place.  It never occurs to you to think it’s a printing error. But he goes on beyond that, taking a long walk in the ordinary ways of life, and all the way to a bitter end.

If you can preserve through the appearances, make it to the heart, you will discover that the artichoke really is delicious.  A thistle is far more noble to consent to being food.  But that it blooms in a desert, spilling out it’s heart and nobility, expanding broad, ugly olive leaves for shelter, raises it to a different order.

To reveal the rest would be a crime against literature. I can only sum up by my own paltry efforts at evocation.

We glean through a trash-heap of miracles. Wandering, pitching out so much dull looking trash, hoping for what is valuable, and not seeing the value in all of it.  We are men starving to death in a fully stocked grocery store, refusing to believe those tall, perfectly heaped stacks of edibles are real.  After all, the freezer section is bitterly cold.  The deli smells of meat. And, there are pictures of babies on baby food.  It is not how we would have ordered things, and we resent that we are better for it.



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