A book that leaves you wanting to read more by and about the author is a success, and when I returned this book to my shelves, I was gladdened to find a few other unread Greene novels. (I love how a library evolves, whenever you read a book and put it away, you see the collection anew. ) I was also happy to discover that Greene was a catholic and even happier to find that he disliked being called a Catholic novelist; He preferred to be known as a writer who happened to be Catholic.
When I picked out this book for the back to the Classics Challenge, I didn’t know what to expect. When I started it, I was immediately pulled in. Mid-way through, I became rather comfortable with my projected outcome. But when Greene failed to tie up loose ends, I began to see that the focus and the trajectory of the novel was not at all what I expected. Greene took a sharp and surprisingly mystical turn, a turn that gave me goose-bumps.
The story begins with Bendrix, a writer by profession, recounting the end of his affair with Sarah Miles, the wife of a civil servant Henry Miles. Bendrix is tormented by its end. He describes how, driven with jealousy, he hires a detective to find out if another man was to blame. But instead of uncovering another affair, Bendrix, a self proclaimed atheist, discovers a beautiful story of a soul.
As the novel moves on, Greene is able to broaden the narrow scope of first person narration and keep the tone intimate by incorporating letters and Sarah’s diary. The act of writing itself is a reappearing theme in the novel. In fact, there are several stirring scenes that involve the written word. I particularly loved the one where Bendrix discovers Sarah’s childhood books and begins to read her inscriptions inside. And near the end, it is both the detective’s simple letter and Sarah’s juvenile inscriptions that take on spine chilling, mystical and mysterious meanings.
In an age of atheism and rationalism Greene reminds us that religion is still relevant- Catholicism still alive and those who practice it may not find the path easy, most likely they find it to be a constant internal battle with oneself.
The novel ends with Bendrix’s weary prayer,
“O God, you’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever”
and that is enough, God can work with that, His heart yearns for souls and His grace is sufficient.
Next on my list Rumer Godden.
Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.