Loving by Henry Green


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?