by Ted Gioia

Readers of fiction are familiar with modern works classified as
magical realism.  But what about
miraculous realism?  Does it
exist as a separate literary genre?  Is it part of the magical
realism movement that emerged as an influential force in fiction
during the second half of the twentieth century? Or does it follow
different rules of its own, drawing on metaphysical and existential
currents that more playful tales of magic and fantasy do not share?

I'm thinking of works such as Robertson Davies's
Fifth Business,
Thomas Mann's
Dr. Faustus, José Donoso's  The Obscene Bird
of Night, Philip K. Dick's VALIS and Graham Greene's The End
of the Affair.  Here the 'magic' exists alongside skepticism
and doubt.  In each of these novels,
uncanny events occur that could be
mere coincidences, but of such a
marked, unlikely degree that they
demand scrutiny, contemplation,
perhaps even some sort of response.  
If the potency of magic is measured
by its life-changing force, these works
of miraculous realism suggest powers
as meaningful as those contained in a
witch's spell or an eleven-inch holly
wand with a phoenix feather core.

Both magical realism and miraculous
realism are throwbacks, reminding us
of the earliest origins of storytelling, the
epics and folktales where both the
magical and miraculous elements mixed
effortlessly with the practical, realistic
details.  Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that, after the grim
period of history marked by the two world wars, when so much
evil was  dispensed with sober, almost bureaucratic efficiency,
that the literary world would crave a return of both the fanciful
qualities of the magical, and the redemptive promises of the
miraculous.  Yes, I believe these two currents go hand in hand,
indeed have always done so.

Graham Greene may often be cited as a Catholic writer, even as
the preeminent Catholic novelist of 20th century literature, but
The
End of the Affair
is his only novel in which miraculous events
intrude into the plot.  His other popular metaphysical novels,
The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock and The Heart of the
Matter
, deal with issues of redemption, but without any deviations
from straightforward naturalistic realism.  Greene may believe
that the "soul" is his battlefront in these works, but materialist
readers are free to assign causality to firing neurons or Freudian
schemas or various other forces as they see fit.  
The End of the
Affair
is a different kind of story entirely. The main characters (and,
by implication, the readers) are each required to deal with the
uncanny, and although denial is an option—albeit an increasingly
problematic one, as the novel progresses—it comes with its own
share of anxieties and complications.  The more Greene's  
characters seek comforting explanations, the less they are
comforted, the less are matters explained.

Greene starts off his novel with misdirection. It’s worth recalling
that Greene classified his works into two categories, literary
fiction and 'entertainments'—the latter emphasizing elements of
mystery and suspense.  At the time of
The End of the Affair, he
had just come off a huge success with the book and film of
The
Third Man
, a spy story set in postwar Vienna. Greene understood
his audience’s growing interest in plots of espionage and intrigue,
fueled by the Cold War tensions, and the movie of
The Third Man
was the biggest British box office success of 1949. (Although The
Daily Worker
, Britain’s communist newspaper, griped that "no
effort is spared to make the Soviet authorities as sinister and
unsympathetic as possible"). Three years later Ian Fleming would
publish his first James Bond novel,
Casino Royale, and over the
ensuing decade John le Carré, Len Deighton and a host of other
British writers would borrow Graham’s blueprint and turn it into a
hugely popular niche of the entertainment industry, one that is still
ringing the cash register to the tune of billions of dollars in the
present day. Graham’s readers were hungry for more of this kind
of escapist fiction. Now with
The End of the Affair, Greene
tantalized them with bits of suspense and intrigue, but incorporated
into a very different type of story. In one of the most daring literary
moves of the era, he planned to surprise his growing crossover
audience with a daunting, occasionally theologically-charged
novel—but one that was disguised as a classic thriller.

All the ingredients of the 'suspense' novel are present in the
opening pages. The narrator Maurice Bendrix, like Greene an
author who has both commercial and literary aspirations, hires
a private investigator to track the movements of a woman.  He
fears that Sarah has taken a lover, but in a strange twist (one of
many in this book), Sarah is not his wife, although he had an
affair with her that had ended during the war years for reasons
he still cannot understand.  In addition, Greene gives us a jealous
husband, the civil servant Henry Miles, Bendrix's former rival and
increasingly his collaborator as they try to uncover the 'truth'
about Sarah.

This is, of course, the famous love triangle, but Greene takes it in
unexpected directions. The husband is unwilling to investigate his
spouse's suspicious behavior, and after he tells of his worries to
Bendrix, the former lover steps in to solve the mystery. He con-
cludes that Sarah must be seeing another man when she
disappears on various 'errands'—unexplained absences that
seem to be subterfuges and excuses. Bendrix is determined to
learn the new rival's identity—and potentially turn the love triangle
into a love rectangle.  He visits a detective agency, and soon the
bumbling and endearing investigator Parkis is on the trail of Mrs.
Miles.  

This is a set-up—not just for Sarah, but for the readers too.  When
a private eye shows up in a novel, we expect crimes and sordid
details to come, but the crisis facing Sarah is an existential one,
and the guilt will increasingly fall on the shoulders of man who
launched the investigation.  The awkwardness of the detective
should be our first clue.  Parkis is as innocent and easily fooled
as a child, and to make sure we understand the incongruity,
Greene assigns him an actual youngster as a companion
—Parkis's son, a twelve-year-old he is "training in the business."
Clearly this is not
Casino Royale, and our investigator is no
James Bond, not even an Austin Powers—although these two
characters, Parkis and his son, end up providing comic relief in
a novel that is in search of bigger game than a cheating lover
caught in the act.   

The private investigator, for all his lack of wiles, comes up with a
big catch—namely, Sarah's diary.   This forms the second major
section of the novel, with the narrative voice moving from the
jealous former lover to the women whose mystery he is trying to
unlock.  But, as it turns out, Sarah is in pursuit of her own mystery,
and her diary is an anguished account of faith and doubt, and
eventually conversion and reconciliation.  All of the events we
followed in the early pages of the novel—from her breakup with
Bendrix to her suspicious errands—now are given a different
meaning. Yes, Bendrix has a rival, but not one of this world.

Or perhaps I should say, not
solely of this world.  For in the
closing pages of
The End of the Affair, divine and human affairs
seem to converge and overlap.   Here, Graham Greene, the same
realist who could dish up spy stories and crime tales, now recounts
incidents that could be taken straight from hagiography. But this
author rarely does anything in a direct way, and almost every
ingredient in
The End of the Affair can be interpreted in multiple
ways.  How fitting, then, that Sarah has been seeing at least two
men—one a rationalist atheist and the other a priest.  When
Bendrix confronts the man he assumes has been sleeping with
her, he instead gets a dose of materialist skepticism—another
comic turnabout in a story where almost every tragic angle comes
coated with dark humor.  

At this point, as at several other junctions of
The End of the Affair,
readers may believe that they have found the 'solution' to the
story.  And if this were a conventional mystery, there would be
little to do at this point except to tidy up a few details, punish the
wicked and send the 'good guys' on their way.  But almost every
aspect of the conventional suspense story is now turned upside
down by Greene.  The ‘good guys” do the suffering in Greene's
theology, and the mysteries remain mysterious at the tale's close.
Even that ultimate source of what Frank Kermode calls the
"sense
of an ending"—namely a character's death—fails to provide a
moment of closure in the context of this novel.  And I find it fitting
that Greene again and again addresses Kermode's critique of
the consciously false ideology of time at the heart of fiction.
Greene needs his story to have at least one foot outside of time,
and is willing to tackle philosophical as well as literary constraints
to force the issue. (At the close of the book, a character even cites
Augustine's dictum that time "came out of the future which didn't
exist yet, into the present that had no duration, and went into the
past which had ceased to exist.")  These are ambitious goals for
a short novel of little more than 50,000 words.

The upshot is a book that provokes strong reactions. Critic
Michael Gorra has noted that many readers, coming to the end
of this novel, "have looked for a wall to throw the book at." At the
other extreme, authors as different in temperament as John
Updike and Evelyn Waugh lavishly praised Greene's achievement.  
Two different movie versions have been made of the book—in
1955 and 1999—and in 2004 Jake Heggie launched his opera
of
The End of the Affair.  Perhaps we live in skeptical, materialist
times, but Greene's 'miraculous realism' apparently hasn't lost its
appeal.  

And why?  Certainly the themes of redemption and existential
meaning are timeless ones.  But in the final analysis, the intensity
of this book must also stem from its alignment with the novelist's
own life, and his personal struggles with adultery, faith, the
responsibilities of the author, and the manner in which belief and
practical day-to-day concerns intersect.  The more we learn about
Graham Greene the man, the more we must view this short novel
as of central importance in defining his vocation and worldview.
In other words, the same book that dares to encompass the
miraculous, resonates so powerfully because it also confronts
the pragmatic and everyday. Readers can decided for
themselves whether that’s a contradiction or a convergence.

Published: November 19, 2012



Ted Gioia writes on music, literature, and popular culture.
His newest book is
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire.
THE YEAR OF MAGICAL READING
The End of the Affair
by Graham Greene
Click on image to purchase
The Year
of
Magical
Reading
(click here)
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Welcome to my year of magical
reading.  Each week during the
course of 2012,  I will explore an
important work of fiction that
incorporates elements of magic,
fantasy or the surreal.  My choices
will cross conventional boundary
lines of genre, style and historical
period—indeed, one of my intentions
in this project is to show how the
conventional labels applied to these
works have become constraining,
deadening and misleading.

In its earliest days, storytelling almost
always partook of the magical. Only
in recent years have we segregated
works arising from this venerable
tradition into publishing industry
categories such as "magical realism"
or "paranormal" or "fantasy" or some
other 'genre' pigeonhole. These
labels are not without their value, but
too often they have blinded us to the
rich and multidimensional heritage
beyond category that these works
share.  

This larger heritage is mimicked in
our individual lives: most of us first
experienced the joys of narrative
fiction through stories of myth and
magic, the fanciful and
phantasmagorical; but only a very
few retain into adulthood this sense
of the kind of enchantment possible
only through storytelling.  As such,
revisiting this stream of fiction from a
mature, literate perspective both
broadens our horizons and allows us
to recapture some of that magic in
our imaginative lives.

The Year of Magical Reading:

Week 1:
Midnight's Children by
Salman Rushdie

Week 2:  The House of the Spirits by
Isabel Allende

Week 3:  The Witches of Eastwick
by
John Updike

Week 4:  Magic for Beginners by
Kelly Link

Week 5:  The Tin Drum by Günter
Grass

Week 6:  The Golden Ass by
Apuleius

Week 7:  The Tiger's Wife by Téa
Obreht

Week 8:  One Hundred Years of
Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez

Week 9:  The Book of Laughter and
Forgetting by Milan Kundera

Week 10: Gargantua and Pantagruel
by
François Rabelais

Week 11: The Famished Road by
Ben Okri

Week 12: Like Water for Chocolate
by
Laura Esquivel

Week 13: Winter's Tale by Mark
Helprin

Week 14: Dhalgren by Samuel R.
Delany

Week 15:  Johnathan Strange & Mr.
Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Week 16:  The Master and
Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Week 17:  Dangerous Laughter by
Steven Millhauser

Week 18:  Conjure Wife by Fritz
Leiber

Week 19:  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Week 20:  The Hobbit by J.R.R.
Tolkien

Week 21:  Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Week 22:  Dr. Faustus by Thomas
Mann

Week 23:  Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Week 24:  Little, Big by John Crowley

Week 25:  The White Hotel by D.M.
Thomas

Week 26:  Neverwhere by Neil
Gaiman

Week 27:  Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Week 28:  Fifth Business by
Robertson Davies

Week 29:  The Kingdom of This
World by Alejo Carpentier

Week 30:  The Bear Comes Home
by R
afi Zabor

Week 31:  The Color of Magic by
Terry Pratchett

Week 32:  Ficciones by Jorge Luis
Borges

Week 33:  Beloved by Toni Morrison

Week 34:  Dona Flor and Her Two
Husbands by Jorge Amado

Week 35:  Hard-Boiled Wonderland
and the End of the World by Haruki
Murakami

Week 36:  What Dreams May Come
by Richard Matheson

Week 37:  Practical Magic by Alice
Hoffman

Week 38:  Blindess by José
Saramago

Week 39:  The Fortress of Solitude
by J
onathan Lethem

Week 40:  The Magicians by Lev
Grossman

Week 41:  Suddenly, A Knock at the
Door by Etgar Keret

Week 42:  Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Week 43:  The Obscene Bird of
NIght by José Donoso

Week 44:  The Fifty Year Sword by
Mark Z. Danielewski

Week 45:  Gulliver's Travels by
Jonathan Swift

Week 46:  Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Week 47:  The End of the Affair by
Graham Greene

Week 48:  The Chronicles of Narnia
by C
.S. Lewis

Week 49:  Hieroglyphic Tales by
Horace Walpole

Week 50:  The View from the
Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier

Week 51:  Gods Without Men by
Hari Kunzru

Week 52:  At Swim-Two-Birds by
Flann O'Brien
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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