Taking a hard look at yourself

I’m reading The End of the Affair which was recommended to me by a writer-friend. It’s written by Graham Greene, a male obviously, but with diary entries from the female protagonist who’s engaged in an illicit affair. The following entry is visceral and unbounded. He is able to write so well from a female perspective.

I remember once, a friend told me that Cormac McCarthy was asked why many of his characters are male, and he said that he was unable to “write” women. I also remember another writer (the name escapes me) being asked the same question, and he said that he “writes” women by taking a “normal,” rational human being and removing all the sanity from that person, and infusing them with overwrought emotion (I may be elaborating here). I’m pretty sure it was from a forgettable romantic comedy or something.

Here’s an entry from The End of the Affair that exemplifies this character’s hard look at herself:

What do you love most? If I believed in you, I suppose I’d believe in the immortal soul, but is that what you love? Can you really see it there under the skin? Even a God can’t love something that doesn’t exist, he can’t love something he cannot see. When he looks at me, does he see something I can’t see? It must be lovely if he is able to love it. That’s asking me to believe too much, that there’s anything lovely in me. I want men to admire me, but that’s a trick you learn at school – a movement of the eyes, a tone of voice, a touch of the hand on the shoulder or the head. If they think you admire them, they will admire you because of your good taste, and when they admire you, you have an illusion for a moment that there’s something to admire. All my life I’ve tried to live in that illusion – a soothing drug that allows me to forget that I’m a bitch and a fake. But what are you supposed to love then in the bitch and the fake? Where do you find that immortal soul they talked about? Where do you see this lovely thing in me – in me, of all people? I can understand you can find it in Henry – my Henry, I mean. He’s gentle and good and patient. You can find it in Maurice who thinks he hates, and loves, loves all the time. Even his enemies. But in this bitch and fake where do you find anything to love (Greene 101)?

Greene, Graham. The End of the Affair. New York: Penguin Group, 1999.

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