Few Notes on “Loving,” Fiction by Henry Green

loving-henry-greenI’ve been looking to read more Henry Green for some time. New York Review Books is in the process of reissuing a collection, introductions to the minimalist titled works by a few of today’s influential critics –  Daniel Mendelsohn, James Wood, Francine Prose, and others. Originally published in 1945, Loving was Green’s fifth book. Other Green titles in the NYRB series, a few more forthcoming in 2017, include the abrupt titles:
Back
Blindness
Caught
Doting
Living
Nothing,
and Party Going.

Loving is literature in a way that many works of fiction are not literature. That is to say it is about language first before it can be said to be about anything else. It might not make a good read for readers who value information and being told things straight up what’s going on. It’s not a page turner. One is encouraged to stay on the page and look again.

The characters include servants and their masters as well as a few animals, including dogs and peacocks. Not much new or different there. Narration is minimal, the book reading almost like drama, the text mostly dialog, but point of view scatters this way and that depending on who’s viewing what where. A bit of children’s book form is suggested by the symmetrical borders of “Once upon…” and “and lived happily…,” and of course the adults often behave like children while the children behave like adults in their ability to stir the plot to action – thinking here of the murdered peacock and its abused corpse and the purloined (or lost and found) ring and its burial, while the one character not taken in by anyone’s childishness is the “reprethent [of] the Inthuranth Company” (133), come to investigate the claim of the missing ring who gets things right but whose authority is undermined by the slapstick speech impediment imposed by the tooth he’s just had pulled.

The setting is a large country estate, a castle in rural Ireland during World War Two. Bucolic enough, but if that sounds pleasant, it’s not so much. Life is a cold and hard working go with much worry and darkness and shut off rooms full of covered furniture, and worries about the close but distant war and what might happen if the Germans invade Ireland, what the Irish are up to, and how the relatives are making out over in beleaguered England. And there are rations and shortages but still plenty of domestic work but real opportunity found only in factories or submitting oneself to the brutalities. Still, not much there either that we don’t find in much literature of the period.

The plot concerns an old butler who dies and a younger one moves in to take his place, a promotion not enthusiastically welcomed by the entire staff, for Raunce promises to issue in some changes and challenge tradition, including insisting Madam call him by his actual name and not Arthur, the name she prefers to call all butlers, regardless of their actual name. Most exasperating is this new Arthur wanting morning tea brought him still in bed and that tea brought by one of the two lovely maids Edith suspicioned of desiring possibly to return Raunce’s inappropriate advances.

The dialog though is what the book is purposefully really about, and the reason for reading that book. Characterization is revealed through dialog, and helps explain the idiosyncrasies of speech and syntax and varied ways of talking employed. As another example of Green’s distinctive but sometimes even peculiar style, he seems to prefer “this” and “that” to the:

“and he took that cushion, ripped the seam open” (130).

Nothing wrong with that, but it appears throughout, in a variety of syntactical shapes, and might strike the ear as odd:

“who took this man’s business card” (131).

But see if you don’t come across that oddness on your own. There are many more examples: “she strode up to that arrow and gave it a tug” (forgot to hold the page; and while I’m at it I’ll add that I’ve resolved this new year to stop marking up books read with marginalia notes and all. Makes the occasional review a bit more difficult though. Ebooks are easy for looking things like that up, but the memory gets not as much exercise. Remains to be seen if the “notes” a la reviews improve or not).

Loving will make a good choice for a book club group, not that I belong to one, but thinking you might, or you could start one, Loving your first book.

Loving, by Henry Green (1945) and 2016 New York Review Books (Introduction by Roxana Robinson).

On a Clear Day, You Can See England

Over at Course of Mirrors, Ashen has posted a review of my novel “Penina’s Letters.”

Ashen’s is a very clear, insightful, reading.

Please swim on over and check it out!

Peninas_Letters_Cover_for_Kindle

 

Coconut Oil Gets a Review

Over at “It Kind of Got Away From You,” Dan has posted a generous but not uncritical review of my novel “Coconut Oil.”

“coconut oil available , an ocean of lotion”

Em's Copies Penina's Letters and Coconut Oil

Roddy Doyle’s “The Guts”

They were sitting in the living room, sharing stuff.
– Your man Roddy Doyle has a new book.
– I don’t have a man.
– It’s just an expression. It’s Irish.
– Are there any Sheas in the new book?
– That’s El Porto Irish.
– What’s my man’s new book about?
– Your man Jimmy Rabbitte is back.
– How old is Jimmy, now?
– Pullin’ 50.
– I might have known. Does my man have a woman?
– He does, and children, too.
– Sounds like a family affair.
– And Imelda is back, too.
– Who is Imelda?
– That’s what Aoife wanted to know.
– What?
– Aoife, Jimmy’s wife. It’s an Irish name. I had to look it up. It’s pronounced EE-fa, long e followed by f then schwa, the a the schwa sound, you know? The upside-down e.
– And is the F word back as well?
– It is, but somewhat diminished. Though it climbs toward the end. Not a main character in this one like it was in The Commitments, the F word.
– So Jimmy’s a wife, then?
– And children.
– Is it good, then, your man’s new book?
– It is. I’ve never read anything by Roddy Doyle that was not good.
– But didn’t Roddy dis your man James Joyce?
– Roddy Doyle did not dis James Joyce. He was merely pointin’ out there are other Irish writers besides James Joyce.
– Includin’ Roddy Doyle.
– Roddy uses the Joyce style quote marks, no quote marks, the dash to start off dialog, you know? And he’s a master at the stream of talk.
– Is there music in this one, like in The Commitments?
– There’s music, yes.
– Is Van Morrison in the new book?
– No, I don’t recall mention of Van the man.
– Your man Roddy probably thinks of Van Morrison the same way he thinks of Joyce.
– Maybe. I don’t know. But I get your point.
– So what does Jimmy Rabbitte do in Roddy Doyle’s new book?
– Come here. I want you to read it, Roddy Doyle’s new book.
– Come here?
– It’s another Irish expression, apparently. But I think it’s only used when you’re on the phone. It’s like a head’s up you’re going to get some request for a favor, or it’s a signal that something serious is about to be said. I’m not sure. But like Jimmy’s on the phone to his Da –
– His who?
– His Da, his Dad, his father. Fathers are what happen to young lads. And Jimmy says, Come here. Can I borrow your car for the weekend?
– He’s pushin’ 50 and he’s after borrowing his father’s car?
– Isn’t that very El Porto Irish of you. They’ve only one rig, and they need two to drive to one of those outdoor concert festivals.
– So music is what this new Roddy Doyle book is all about?
– No, not first and foremost. But come here. I want you to read it.
– You haven’t told me what it’s about yet.
– Remember that movie we watched, The Pope’s Toilet?
– No. Is your man the new pope in Roddy’s new book?
– Never mind. Your eyes are a pretty blue, a powdery, baby blue.
– Compliments will get you nowhere.
– Fair play. Jimmy has no friends, either.
– I might have known. You and James and Jimmy and Roddy should all get together for a pint.
– Wouldn’t that be something?
– You think your man Roddy reads your blog? You going to post a review of his new book?
– He first self-published The Commitments, you know.
– But he’s not still self-publishing.
– I guess not.
– You think he reads blogs?
– There’s a funny scene in the new book, where Jimmy goes back to work after being away for a time, and he’s got like hundreds of emails waiting for him, and he deletes all the distractions he’s subscribed to, without looking at them. That’s the Internet. Subscribe to something, like you’re following it, but never look at it except to delete the update. But there’s mention of blog, I think. I forget. But yeah, there’s mention of a blog.
– You usually circle that sort of thing.
– No marginalia in this one, dear. I didn’t want to mess it up for you. Come here. I’m after askin’ you to give it a read.
– Why?
– I don’t know.
– What’s it called, Roddy’s new book?
– The Guts.
– The Guts? So what’s it about, finally, The Guts?
– It’s about courage, maybe, the courage of the ordinary.
– Is courage getting good reviews these days?
– There are plenty of regular reviews of The Guts out there readers can check out. I’m going to post this.
– What?
– Our conversation.
– That ought to nail it.
– I love the ground you walk upon.
– Go away. Go blog or something.

Roddy Doyle, “The Guts,” ISBN 9780670016433 | 336 pages | 23 Jan 2014 | Viking Adult | 6.29 x 9.33in

It’s “After Midnight” at Berfrois

The Toads review, posted back in May, of “After Midnight” was reposted today on Berfrois. After the last few weeks of more unrest around the contemporary world – on the ground, in the air, on-line – Irmgard Keun’s short novel about the life of a young woman in Germany during the build up toward World War Two feels increasingly relevant. Whatever time it is locally, cruise on over to Berfrois and check out the review and more.