Reviewer: JJ Marsh
What we thought: In response to the interview question ‘Which book do you wish you’d written?’, Charlie Maclean mentioned this classic. A title I knew but had never read. Then I spotted the audiobook narrated by Colin Firth. Done deal. Any excuse for that man’s cadences in my earhole.
Firth’s voice does indeed add all kinds of wonderful to this story, but there’s already a very good reason this is a classic. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, angry, passionate, tragic and layered. At its heart is the love affair between Bendrix and Sarah. At its soul is the essential question – how to live one’s life?
Greene starts his story at the end, and the beginning. Bendrix meets the cuckolded husband, Henry, on the common. Friends once, they have a drink and a sequence of events is set in motion. Bendrix’s passionate love affair with his wife is, at her instigation, over. Their passions, however, are not so easily extinguished.
Characters struggle on three fronts: circumstances, desires and acceptable behaviour, as the narrative flicks back and forth between past and present with a terrible, classically tragic inevitability. The backdrop is WWII, and Greene makes the best use of a literal and metaphorical dropped bomb.
Layers peel away revealing other affections, superstitions, class distinctions and sympathies/antipathies based on social conditioning.
Impossible to say more without wrecking the enjoyment for the why-have-I-never-read-this-before reader. Read it and relish the joy of a master storyteller.
You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Avoid if you don’t like: Slow burning stories, switching timelines, buttoned-down British characters
Ideal accompaniments: An English muffin with salted butter, chicory coffee and Don’t Me Fence Me In, by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters
Genre: Literary fiction, classic
Available from Amazon