Saturday, August 04, 2018

Henry Green

It's not everyday you read a novel that's truly convincing. But that was certainly the case with Loving, Henry Green's story of a remote Irish estate at the start of the Second World War. 

Part of what makes this novel so enjoyable is its dialogue. I mean: I was impressed. Green constructs realistic conversation between characters: conversation that's jagged, digressive, and sweet. It is, in a word, convincing. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the best of Green's dialogue in Loving reminded me of what Hemingway was able to wield in A Farewell to Arms.  

But there's more here than dialogue alone. Green took the traditional novel -- about wealth, class, and estate -- and inverted it: this is a story far more about the help than about the lords. This is a work in which the service generates drama. They appear front and center: their hidden lives exposed. 

As Roxana Robinson notes in her introduction, Downton Abbey drew much from Loving, and I can certainly see why: Green produced a novel in which events below board are given as much -- they're treated with as much seriousness -- as those above. Which is not to say that it's all glum: indeed, Green's endowed the novel with a great sense of fun and foolishness. 

And that's what works so well here: the symbiosis between the upper and lower classes -- all set against the context of the Second World War. This is a fun, thoughtful book: one, as Robinson remarks, that could have ended at any moment. For there's drama among any cast of characters, and when two of the help leave toward the end of the book, Green implies that they'll be replaced by a pair of characters equally interesting, and equally capable of advancing the action. This really is a great novel: fun, playful, and insightful. 


On a somewhat related note: Loving was my fiftieth novel on Modern Library's list of the top 100 (which I find a wonderful source for reading). And so I say: here's to the next fifty! 


  1. Congratulations on accomplishing the feat, Jessie. All the best for the next fifty. On another note, is it ok to skip the infamous number one on the list?