When Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog proposed a Henry Green Week I instantly decided to participate. I had bought a really lovely 1953 copy of Loving by Green some years before and had never even cracked it open. It sat lingering on my shelf until I moved last summer when it was put into a box perhaps never to see the light of day again (or for a few months anyway). After committing to HG Week I rummaged through all of my boxes in storage until I found it (and a few other books I had forgotten about). I’m glad I finally read it. I’m not crazy about it, but I admire Green’s original voice and style.

Loving takes place during WWII at a manor house in Ireland. The Tennant family and their eccentric staff of English servants co-exist in tenuous harmony while war wages across the sea. When the Tennant’s leave for England to meet their son and husband on leave the servants relax their usual standards and reserve with each other and their natural weaknesses and desires come shining through. The cook’s drinking turns serious, the nanny and the housekeeper both take to their beds and the butler and one of the housemaids indulge their attraction for each other and fall in love.

Loving is written with dialogue as the vehicle for the story. There is very little straight narrative and sometimes this style makes it confusing to know what is going on. There were several times when I was completely lost and had no idea what the characters were referring to or what exactly was happening. Green gives his characters an unusual speech pattern and a very colorful way with words that was truly admirable at times, but was just downright frustrating at others. For instance, there is a running gag for the last third of the book where the servants mock an acquaintance with a lisp. After pages of reading s’s as ‘th’ I got a tad frustrated.

And I found myself frustrated for other reasons. I really didn’t like any of the characters and grasped to find even one person I could relate to. They all seemed manipulative, scheming, selfish and whiny. I especially disliked Raunce, the butler, and could see no reason why Edith, the maid, would fall in love with him. I also disliked the circularity of the plot. The same subjects and issues are repeated over and over again – it made me sigh in dismay.

Henry Green. From mutablesound.com

I didn’t thoroughly loathe this novel. I do see the merit of Green’s peculiar style and applaud his unique take on a love story. I did experience moments of sheer pleasure while reading this novel, moments when I laughed and marveled at the audacity and  moxie the servants display. However, in the end, I think this is a novel for me that is to be admired rather than enjoyed.

Have you read Henry Green? What do you think of his writing style?

15 Comments

  1. I read this for Henry Green week as well, and I agree that it was a baffling book at times, and that the characters were not particularly likeable. I couldn’t see the attraction of Raunce either, except that perhaps options were so limited, and the alternative demonstrated by the spinster life of the head housemaid so unappealing, that they settled for whoever was around.

    • Yes, I can see that the two girls, Edith and Kate, just accepted the men who were available for them. Thank goodness women have more options now!

  2. I completely agree with your impression of Raunce. As the novel started out I assumed he’d fit right into the roll of the slimy butler whose advances on the maids would be constantly repelled, so I was surprised to see Edith’s attraction to him. The novel as a whole may have been more enjoyable if there was a more likeable romantic pairing to root for….but then again, I could just be caught up in the Downton Abbey mindset at the moment!

  3. This sounds like exactly the kind of setting that I love, and it sounds like a wonderful set up (while the cat’s away etc – wasn’t there an episode of Upstairs Downstairs with the family away?) – but not a book I’ll need to read.

  4. I haven’t read anything by Henry Green yet but I love the cover of this one. I’ve just finished reading a book with a character with a lisp, very annoying because they even wrote words beginning with a ‘sh’ sound as ‘thsh’ – daft – as people with a lisp have no problems with ‘sh’. I know because I have a lisp!!

  5. Pingback: Thanks all Henry Green week wrap up post « Winstonsdad's Blog

  6. I’m in totall agreement concerning the characters, I read Party Going & whilst the prose was wonderful the characters were just social automatons repeating the last innocuous Cliche.

    • Parrish, I’m sorry to hear that Party Going had the same flaws as Loving did. I really did like the prose, but the characters were lacking!

  7. After seeing Loving on the Modern Library Top 100 list, I bought a combined edition which includes Loving, Living, and Party Going. I’ve only read Loving so far but I was disappointed, I just didn’t understand where it was going or where the point was. I’ve never had any overwhelming urge to read the other two. I’m glad I’m not the only one who found this underwhelming.

    • It was disappointing, but I did find some merit in it. I am a bit surprised that it is on the ML Top 100 list…I don’t think I will read any of his other novels!

  8. I’m sorry I missed this readalong as I really do want to read Henry Green. Perhaps it’s best, though, to start with one of his other books? I do love the cover illustration, though!

  9. What a lovely book jacket on your copy! Completely captures that wonderful scene when they’re dancing.

%d bloggers like this: