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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

You HAVE to read...

A friend of mine suggested I read The End of the Affair. She in fact stopped to take a breath, put both her hands on her chest, or thereabouts, closed her eyes (in the characteristically dramatic way that she does when passionate about something)  and said, ‘Oh my God, you HAVE to read The End of the Affair', I mean, it’s just, like, oh my God’. I’m sure she rambled a little more than that, but that was the gist anyway. And every so often when we’d meet she’d put her hand on my arm, close her eyes again and ask, ‘Have you read it yet?’ and I would, in my characteristically non passionate way reply, ‘No’.

‘But you have to – it’s just, right, well, okay, it’s just about this one moment in time which changes the entire course of this love affair – and I know you’ll love it, because in that moment the woman…(and she rolled her eyes here) ‘…wait for it’ (shaked her head) ’…finds God’. I thought she was about to start sobbing at this point but she managed to contain herself and continue, ‘You’ll love it’.

Of course, it was the mention of God changing said woman’s life that intrigued me, though I intended on reading it anyway. Being, for better or for worse, partial to religion I decided to pick it up and open the first page. I perhaps shouldn’t have done this at the bus stop, because suffice to say from the opening two paragraphs, I was hooked:

A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who—when he has been seriously noted at all—has been praised for his technical ability, but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common, in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also have believed in a hand, plucking at my elbow, a suggestion, 'Speak to him: he hasn’t seen you yet.'
For why should I have spoken to him? If hate is not too large a term to use in relation to any human being, I hated Henry—I hated his wife Sarah too. And he, I suppose, came soon after the events of that evening to hate me: as he surely at times must have hated his wife and that other, in whom in those days we were lucky enough not to believe. So this is a record of hate far more than of love, and if I come to say anything in favour of Henry and Sarah I can be trusted: I am writing against the bias because it is my professional pride to prefer the near-truth, even to the expression of my near-hate
Hooked, so that I refused to put it away when I was walking home from the bus stop, on a wet and dark evening (the irony of sharing a similar atmospheric setting with the narrator leant itself to a little more enjoyment on my behalf). And when the following day I put it down after having finished it, I refused to pick up another book for days. It stayed with me in the way brilliant books do. I’m a sucker for a crisis, doomed love, moral agonising, especially when it’s written without being sentimental. Tragedy is key for me, and this had all the great elements of it; the torture of wanting one thing but being completely unable to reconcile with that want because of one’s duty made me want to tell everyone I met to read it. Of course, the subject matter might not be to everyone’s tastes, the tragedy might even be slightly too dramatic for one’s liking, but the narrative! Oh the narrative! I stop to put both hands on my chest, close my eyes, and say, ‘Oh my God, you HAVE to read The End of the Affair.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! what a reveiw for a book. No book has touch me that way since 'Catcher in the Rye' (hope I got the title right) and that was 30 years ago!
    It is every writer's dream to have that effect I live in hope