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Loving / Living / Party Going

by Henry Green

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7921524,430 (3.54)54
Henry Green, whom W. H. Auden called 'the finest living English novelist', is the most neglected writer of the last century and the one most deserving of rediscovery by a new generation. This volume brings together three of Henry Green's intensely original novels. Green explored class distinctions through the medium of love. Loving brilliantly contrasts the lives of servants and masters in an Irish castle during World War Two, Living of workers and owners in a Birmingham iron foundry. LIVING, LOVING, PARTY GOING is a brilliant comedy of manners, presenting a party of wealthy travellers stranded by fog in a London railway hotel while throngs of workers await trains in the station below.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This volume contains three of Green’s nine novels. Green’s burden is the high praise that exacting writers such as Auden and Updike have heaped on him. I decided to give him a try anyway.
The books aren’t printed here in chronological order; the opener, Loving, was the last published of the three. I found it the most accessible, which could explain why it was placed first. Yet even this took a while to get into. It employs much dialogue; punctuation is reduced to a minimum, which means that the phrases are difficult to scan. Once I got the hang of it, I admired how this technique reproduced the way we often talk: elliptically, run-on, colorful phrases interspersed with mundane. At times, the conversations he reports are two monologues, spoken past each other. This, too, came to feel true to life.
The setting is familiar to fans of upstairs/downstairs dramas, although Green devotes more attention to downstairs than up.
There is plot development in the novel in the sense that things happen, but these are less important than bringing characters vividly to life. Spoiler alert: the incidental nature of “plot” is brilliantly expressed in the last line.
The second of the three novels, Living, was the earliest published. It is set among the workers of a Birmingham foundry. The owner and his family also appear, including the effete son impatient to introduce his modern management ideas (the real person behind Green’s nom de plume was himself the son of a wealthy industrialist). But again, the author spends more time depicting the workers. It is a wide cast of characters, but by the end, the focus has come down to one in particular, not necessarily the character one would have expected. Elliptical, picturesque dialogue is also evident. In addition, Green forgoes almost all articles. This could be what some have in mind who include him among the modernists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
In the final book collected here, Party Going, Green turns to the pampered young people he probably moved among in real life. A group gathers to set off on a journey that is delayed when a deep fog enshrouds the station from which their boat train is set to depart. They decamp to the adjoining hotel and spend the next few hours interacting. Then the fog lifts, and they leave. While Green’s dialogue technique is more conventional here than in the other two books, things his characters say are rarely in sync with what they mean or feel. This is expressed in one of the author’s asides that reminds me of Oscar Wilde: “People, in their relation with one another, are continually doing similar things but never for similar reasons.” For the most part, though, Green doesn’t tell, he shows. I found the members of this ensemble “tarsome” to an extreme, and I think this was the author’s intention. The few hours they spend trapped in the fog seem like a season in hell, or at least purgatory, except that the experience doesn’t purge them.
Green’s prose, especially in Party Going, is also remarkable in its use of extended metaphors that suddenly reintroduce the object of comparison to jarring effect.
The peculiarities of Green’s style made the reading slow going, but I found the effort rewarded. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Loving was fine, Living was interesting, Party Going was as interminable as the wait for the fog to lift. ( )
  encephalical | Jul 12, 2020 |
Living: What to say about Henry Green? At one point, he was considered by some as “the best English novelist” and – a phrase I quite like – as the “writer’s writer’s writer”. According to Wikipedia, he was always more popular among other writers than the reading public and “none of his books sold more than 10,000 copies”. From the 1950s onwards, his star faded – he died in 1973 – and by the 1980s, he was mostly forgotten… only to be rediscovered in the early 1990s, and omnibuses of his nine novels (three per omnibus) have been in print ever since. And yes, he is every bit as good as his admirers have/had it. Living, his second novel, is set in and around a Birmingham iron foundry in the 1920s – Green actually worked as the managing director of his family’s engineering firm in Birmingham – and focuses on a handful of its employees, including the London-based son of the company’s owner. The prose is modernist, and uses definite and indefinite articles sparingly. It takes a bit of getting used to, but Green’s writing is so good it’s highly effective. The dialogue is also written in dialect – although I could never quite make it sound Brummie in my head – which also takes a while to get used to. In terms of plot, there’s not a great deal, just the lives of its central characters, and how they cope with changes to the company’s fortunes. But reading Green just makes me want to push the envelope of my own writing. I don’t want to come up with cleverer plots, or more engaging stories, I want to sharpen my narratives, improve my word-choices, write the best damn prose I can, so that I too can be as lucid, as economical, and yet as lyrical, as Henry Green. Highly recommended.

Party Going: The novel opens with a middle-aged woman entering a London railway station (I don’t think it’s named) and finding a dead pigeon. She picks up the corpse, takes it into the ladies’ toilets, washes it, and then wraps it in brown paper. She’s not entirely sure why. And after she bumps into the young woman she is there to meet (she was in service with her family as a nanny), she throws away the dead pigeon. But then she goes and retrieves it from the bin. The young woman is there to meet up with a bunch of friends who are all heading for the south of France on the boat-train. However, thick fog has closed down the station, and no trains are running. So after the party has gathered, they head into the station hotel to wait for the fog to lift. At which point, the ex-nanny is taken ill (it’s not clear if she’s just had too much to drink or is genuinely ill). Meanwhile, the party settles down in a suite, and the banter begins – mostly focusing on two women and their relationship with the young playboy who’s funding the trip to the Riviera. The fog still hasn’t lifted by five o’clock, and all the commuters have turned up to find their trains home aren’t running. So the management seal off the hotel while the station concourse fills up with angry workers. Green’s prose is beautifully done. There’s very little in the way of exposition, and what there is comes naturally from the characters. The prose is sparse and clear, and often dispenses with definite articles or pronouns in a Modernist style. The characterisation comes purely from the characters’ words and deeds. Green neither shows nor tells. It’s up to the reader to plot what’s going on, to figure out the relationships between the characters, to work out the story-arc (and, to be fair, there usually isn’t one), and to make sense of the situations Green documents. I stumbled across this omnibus of three of Green’s novels in a charity shop and was intrigued by the description of him as “the best English novelist alive” (by WH Auden, in 1952). His prose is indeed superb, and I greatly admire its clarity and its refusal to compromise. The Modernism reads a little quaint these days, and I’d sooner novelists experimented with structure rather than grammar, but every writer worth their salt should try a Green novel at least once. ( )
2 vote iansales | Sep 17, 2017 |
I was made aware of Henry Green and his novel ' Living' from a recent BBC series Books that Made Britain. He has been largely forgotten in the public reading consciousness but I was assured he was well worth seeking out. I mentally filed him on my TBR list and when I came across a compilation of ' Loving, Living and Party Going' in my local Oxfam shop I picked it up. Let us begin with the writing style. Written in what is meant to be a so called working - class brummie accent it seems Green was attempting to lend an air of authentic ambience to the novel - how novel! Not really. Emily Bronte did this in Wuthering Heights with her character Joseph - although she had the good sense to realise having the whole of her Yorkshire characters speaking in 'aye up North' would have added nothing of any value to her tale which stands on it's own without the gimmicks. I found myself feeling patronised quite frankly and in any case was reading the whole thing Yorkshire as opposed to Brummie - seems us working-class proles are all the same when it comes down to dropping our 'H's and going t'factory. So that's my piss boiled and now to get down to the rest of it. This is a tale of living in fear and ignorance. It's an illustration of how the class-system works and a patriarchal society. It's a screaming loud example of how John Carey's intellectual aristocracy viewed the masses in the early part of the 20th century. Anyone who reads this novel who thinks it is about poverty is wrong - theses are the jammers of their time and there is plenty further to fall for them as illustrated by the Liverpool dockside scenes. The factory workers are getting by - and some can even manage to save but they are always teetering on the edge of ruin, if the job goes down the toilet. Green's portrayal of motherhood is certainly something to take with a pinch of salt - oh isn't it all so lovely and joyful - he clearly had no experience of being stuck at home with screaming kids when you have washing to boil and a multitude of other chores to be getting on with. Then there are the middlers - the foremen and managers back-stabbing their work-mates vying for a better and supposedly safer position in the works set-up who are despised by both the workers and the new owner - stressed up to the eyeballs in a bid to survive. And we go right up to the top of the food-chain to the Dupret's the ruling elite - privileged by inheritance they fair no better in this blanket portrayal of the class -system vacuous, spoiled and incompetent absorbed in the trivialities of life - the difference being that they can just play at it all however they like and make a meal out of not getting what they want ( in this case the girl ) and as a result take it all out on the proles whose lives - whoever they are in the company are all dispensable, To summarise this novel is a blanket indictment of the working - classes and their dull and uninspiring lives - any attempt to break the mould bound to fail because they lack the courage and the ability to change their situation. Has Green done a good job here? - in some ways yes - I work in a factory and despite it now being the 21st century I see examples of what he talks about every day. I see fear and ignorance and apathy. I see the ugliness of ambition and feel the derision and sexism of upper management when I am held up as an exhibit to visitors - I am one of the ' ladies' or the ' girls' - Dorset and it's Middlers has a long way to go in getting jiggy with it in a modern world. I also see enthusiasm, creativity, zest for life, enterprise and planners for the future - artists, scholars and intrepid explorers. The point is everyone in this novel is tarred with the same brush - no one breaks the mould. There is no hope only derision and a stereo-typical portrayal of groups of people. That to me is not great writing. And as for the birds - a bit old hat and obvious. I note that in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, Henry Green is listed as part of the canon but not for this particular novel. So I leave with this question who reads Henry Green? ( )
1 vote MarianneHusbands | Feb 3, 2017 |
Well, just Loving but I liked it lot and plan to read the other two, just not right away. Good for folks who like their modernist lit with a bit of Downton Abbey. I liked the subtle humor. ( )
2 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Greenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Faulks, SebastianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kleinman, DanielCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Updike, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Once upon a day an old butler called Eldon lay dying in his room attended by the head housemaid.
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Henry Green, whom W. H. Auden called 'the finest living English novelist', is the most neglected writer of the last century and the one most deserving of rediscovery by a new generation. This volume brings together three of Henry Green's intensely original novels. Green explored class distinctions through the medium of love. Loving brilliantly contrasts the lives of servants and masters in an Irish castle during World War Two, Living of workers and owners in a Birmingham iron foundry. LIVING, LOVING, PARTY GOING is a brilliant comedy of manners, presenting a party of wealthy travellers stranded by fog in a London railway hotel while throngs of workers await trains in the station below.

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