I put down Henry Green’s 1945 novel Loving with the odd feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to put together a coherent review on it. After all, how do you review a work that feels less like literature than like life? This book, set in Ireland during World War II, among the servants and masters in a great country house, is buzzing with life. Reading the first page is like walking in the door of the house, observing the conversations (Green has a preternaturally good ear for the way people really talk) and relationships, the way pettiness and nobility can exist in the same heart at the same moment, the way love and longing build in everyone, in every way of life. Reading the last page is like stepping out of the door, leaving that life behind, and knowing it’s going on without you.
Green’s writing doesn’t have the distance of irony. As he describes the interactions he observes — vivid peacocks dotting the lawn; two maids curiously peering out a bright oriel window, so that their heads darken the room — you see what his prismatic eye offers, as if his world were in the palm of your hand. Anxiety, illness, tenderness, sarcasm, uncontrollable giggles, all find their way into these lives. I can’t give a plot summary. Does life have a plot? Between “Once upon a day” and “happily ever after,” this story emerges like a peacock from its egg: tiny, fresh, and vividly glowing with color and life.
This novel was in the same volume as two of his others, Living and Party Going, but I think I’ll take a short break before I read any more of Green’s work. Something so rich deserves careful consideration.