By Graham Greene
New York: Penguin Books, 2004, originally published 1951
ISBN # 978-0-14-243798-8
160 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2016

Maurice Bendrix had an affair with Sarah Miles in 1944. The war was on and Maurice was working with Sarah’s husband, Henry. The affair was quite passionate. However, during one of the bombing raids the house where they were was hit by a bomb and it seems that Sarah believed Maurice was killed. This whole event shocked her greatly and she simply ran off.

As the novel opens, some two years later, Maurice once again meets Sarah and seeks to re-open their affair. Maurice is a writer of fiction and he tells Sarah that he is going to write a novel in which a character much like her husband, Henry, will be the main character, and he needed to talk to her about him.

When they meet he declares his love and his seeming inability to live without her and begs her to once again enter into a relationship with him. However, she will have nothing to do with him and she begins to do all she can to avoid him.

Maurice is driven, and curious. He can’t understand what has happened and even believes that perhaps she told her husband of their affair and that is what’s going on. He goes for a drink with her husband, Henry, and he asks Bendrix back to their apartment to talk about Sarah. It turns out that Henry, himself, is worried about her and can’t understand what’s going on. Bendrix suggests to Henry that he hire a detective agency to follow her and see what’s going on. Henry reluctantly has Bendrix do this since he can’t understand her not wanting to see him again. Bendrix hires the detective for him!

The detective agency assigns Mr. Parkis, one of their detectives, to Bendrix’s “case” and it turns out that Parkis always works with his young son. Curiously to me, Bendrix seems to not find this very odd, and the arrangement seems to work well between Bendrix and Parkis (and son).

Bendrix is rather shocked when Parkis reports that on his first day of following Sarah he saw her kissing another man. Bendrix thinks that perhaps he saw that too, but he can’t be fully sure; he’s been trying to watch her as well. He is surprised, however, when she calls and want to meet with him.

She simply tells him that it’s all over with them, that the experience during the war was simply too much for her to take. However, she never really explains what it was about that bomb blast that “was too much for her.”

Parkis goes to a party at Sarah’s house and steals her diary and gives it to Bendrix. He reads it and in it she traces her UNENDING love of him from when they met until she thought he died in the war. However, she had promised God that if He would somehow have allowed him to live she would never see him again and would remain faithful to her marriage. Thus she was simply honoring her promise to God.

Sarah then suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Bendrix is both devastated by the news, but astonished to discover how much she had loved him even to the end. However, she had to honor her promise to God. This very much surprises him since he had no idea she had any connection to a belief in God, or that she would feel she would have had to honor such a promise made in that devastating moment of what she thought was a death of her lover in the bombing. However, he learns that she was actually a profoundly believing person who respected her promise to God.

At first he thinks this whole notion of her “religious belief” is just something crazy, but he soon comes to discover that it was real and that it was, indeed, the ultimate reason for her steadfast resolve not to come back to him.

However her diary convinces him of her sincere belief in God and her feeling that she simply had to honor her promise to God and not go back to him. Bendrix is even deeply moved by the various almost miracle-like events at the very end of the novel which could easily be read as miracle of a God.

The novel is dark, sad, yet seemingly a bit underdeveloped. For me, the reader is given too many unexpected and rather implausible surprises along the way. I simply wasn’t satisfied that the novel was well developed.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett