When one lists the essential elements of a compelling espionage story, the kind that leaves you breathless but ultimately flattened by the sucker punch in the gut, most would include tension, intrigue, deception, secrets, loyalty, and betrayal. These very qualities are also the complicated netting in the most successful narratives depicting affairs of the heart, specifically those which examine the violation of vows within a marriage. Graham Greene knew both worlds intimately, and wrote about them with a mastery of not only language, but an elusive understanding as deep and mysterious as the scenarios he actually lived.
Many are familiar with Greene’s work through a number of stellar films ((The Third Man, 1949; The Heart of the Matter, 1953; The Power and the Glory (known as The Fugitive, 1947)), but there is one novel, though twice filmed, that can only be justly accessed, pondered and felt through its pages. The End of the Affair tells anything but the prosaic platitudes that taint many a tale of adultery. It is a disquietingly painful and complex portrayal of three souls whose trajectory is as layered and pungent as an onion.
In fact, it all starts with onions. Maurice, an embittered writer, and Sarah, the dutiful and discontented wife of Henry, an amiable civil servant, enjoy an innocent lunch while discussing plot points from one of Maurice’s novels, or rather, the film version of which they have just seen. As they are dickering over realism, Sarah alludes to the likelihood that a straying wife can avoid the welcome-home kiss of her onion-averse husband by eating onions earlier in the day with her lover. In a scene which could be condemned by cynics as transparently implausible in its synchronicity, a waiter brings some onions to their table. The two quickly ignite into a furtive relationship plagued by Maurice’s devouring jealousy and Sarah’s restless weariness.
But the adultery is only the exposition for the real story. Abruptly and without explanation, Sarah ends their liaisons, sending Maurice into a wretched decline of hostile despair, self-pity, and loathing for Sarah and Henry. Little does Maurice believe in love and sacrifice. Though Sarah is not faithful, she is not without faith. The power of The End of the Affair lies not in the mundane foibles of a romantic triangle, but in the mysteries of the deals we make with God, and those signs from above that propel the indecisive to take actions that are impulsive, redemptive and sometimes tragic, be it a plate of onions or a prayer answered.
Super-Simple Pearl Onion Salad - Based on the Maria Brazil recipe
Ingredients (per serving)
10 pearl onions (do not peel)
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Splash of lime juice
Scattering of sea salt
Baby greens, optional (I used arugula.)
Using a cutting board and a very sharp knife, thinly slice each onion. The peel will release without much trouble. Discard peel with the root and stem ends. Gently push a finger through each slice to create rings. If raw onions are too harsh for your taste, you can soak them for two hours in a bowl of cold water to remove some of the sulphur (see recipe link for more details). Arrange on plate and dress as desired.
This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, co-hosts of the seasonal event, Novel Food, celebrating what is eaten amid the pages of the stories we love to read.