The novel tells the story of Maurice Bendrix, a dime-a-dozen novelist looking back on an affair with Sarah Bertram, his friend’s wife. The irony of his own stiffness on the page is not lost on us as, near the end of the novel, he says, “there is one character who obstinately will not come alive,” a seeming pun on his own dullness and Sarah’s death as well 154. It’s unclear whether Maurice is getting away with his many cliches because he manages to refresh them (is this Greene poking fun at his mediocre author-character?) or because his voice so delightfully contrasts with the vivid diary entries of Sarah, who is struggling with her faith and the affair(s) she has. He learns through her diary that she made a promise to God not to sleep with him again if he survived the bombing, and she keeps it. Though he scorns her religious turn, the series of aesthetic patterns – or religious miracles – that conclude the novel suggest he may be forced to read the situation differently.
Like Waugh, Murdoch, and other writers of the postwar period, Graham Greene retains an interest in the status of dying religion in England, symbolized by minority Catholicism. For Isherwood, Greene, and Waugh, this seems to involve a roman a clef form that reconstructs the self with some artifice, but is nonetheless tied to a personal realism.