So Mike and I both read The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene, with surprising results. It was my idea, because I so admired The Comedians when we read it for book club, and I wanted Mike to try him. The result of this experiment was, I feel, unexpected.
We had completely different ideas of the book. I think we even had different experiences of it. He hated all the characters, wondered where it was going, and found it, at best, interesting toward the end. (I apologize, Mike, if this is an unfair description of your opinion.) And while I wouldn't say I loved it, I liked it very much, found it interesting, and found most of the characters, if not sympathetic, at least believable and intriguing. Even when they were being total bastards.
Without giving too much away, I have theories on why our opinions differed.
1) There is a plot twist and I knew what it was. I actually didn't know it was a twist--really more of a mystery. I read the back of the video box long ago, and the blurb they use to describe the plot gives away something the reader and narrator spend the first half of the book trying to figure out. This is why our experience was different.
2) I think having read The Comedians made a difference. The main character, despite having a very different life, has a very similar personality in many ways. He behaves much the same toward his lover. Heck, he has a married lover in the first place. The love affair is less promient in that book, but the echo of that other, somewhat nobler--or at least less horrible--narrator influenced my opinion of him, I think. Another strike on the side of different experiences.
3) A lot of the book is about struggling with God. Although Mike found this to be the most intersting part of the story, we had very different opinions about what was happening. What I took to be a real, if perhaps misdirected and hysterical, search for truth and meaning, he took as a nervous breakdown. I can see how one could read it his way, but because some of the emotional and intellectual places the character goes on that search are familiar to me, I cut her a lot more slack for the outrageous or nonsensical turns her search takes. A lot of what she went through looked familiar to me, while to Mike, it looked crazy. And the parts he sees as crazy are crazy--but in a direction I can imagine going.
4) Related to #3, I liked Sarah a lot more because I felt like she was being foolish but not nuts. I can see all the arguments for not liking her, and it's more than possible that I'm just completely missing the "unreliable narrator" component of this book, but that was my feeling. So there was that.
And that's that. We had a great conversation about it, though, I think. The kind of conversation I love and that never seems to come along often enough, mostly because I can't hold my own very long. Those are the conversations at a good book club, and always when we all get together in Atlanta, and that Mike and I have been having a lot lately. Ones where I feel like I've thought well, and expressed it well, and heard ideas I wouldn't have thought of and internalized them. Heady stuff.