Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Back by Henry Green

Back by Henry Green (1946, 340 KB)

I was very happy when I saw Stu of Winston's Dad was hosting a Henry Green Week from Jan 23 to Jan 31, 2012 to encourage people to read and post on the work of Henry Green.   I have read three novels of Henry Green, Loving, Living, and Party Going.    Penguin  Books has in a very generous gesture packaged all three of these books (average length about 175 pages) in one volume (also available as a Kindle edition).

 I admit I had never even heard of him until Victoria Glendinning in her biography of Elizabeth Bowen mentioned that Green and Elizabeth Bowen were friends.   Bowen is quoted as saying Green was one the very few English novelists who could reproduce the actual sensations of living people talking.    

Henry Green (the pen name for Henry Yorke-1905 to 1973, UK) was born into real wealth.   His father was a wealthy industrialist, land owner and was an intensely cultured man.    John Updike in his brilliant introduction to Green works  tells us that Green's father was an amateur connoisseur of country dialect.    I could see this spilling over in the novels in Green's wonderful handling of the speech of Birmingham factory workers.   I have said before that I do not like the use of country dialects in novels.   Green is so good at  this I loved it when he did it.   Green was descended from barons on both parental sides.     He grew up in and would always live in a great manors house.      He was educated at Eaton and Oxford.   Upon leaving Oxford (he never completed a degree) he of his own volition went to work on the floor of one of his father's factories.    He would later become a manager but always worked for the family company.     During WWII he was a volunteer fireman.   He married a second cousin and had an odd but enduring marriage.  

Back (you have to love the title's Green gave to his novels) centers on Charley Summers who spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp.   He lost his leg to a German sniper.   He was repatriated to England before the war was over in exchange for a German captive of the British who was also in need of medical care.     When he returns he finds the woman he loved with all his heart, Rose, has died.

Back in terms of plot action is about Charley's issues in getting over the death of Rose, he does not, and in fitting into the austerity of WWII England.   It is really hard for me to describe the brilliance and wonder of Back.   It is about people trying to survive a war among other things.   In one very hard breaking scene Charley goes to call on the parents of the woman he loved who had married someone else while he was gone.   The parents of Rose had lost a son in the war and this seems to have nearly unhinged the mother.   It was very real and very sad to see the father dealing with his wife when she thought Charley was perhaps their son returning from the war.   

We feel for Charley as he somehow confuses Rose's half sister for Rose and I felt bad for him as he  tried to cope with working as clerk in a government job.   We hear very little of the years he spent in the German prison camp but it must some how overshadow all his other issues and make it hard for him to relate to those who have not had these experiences.   He may be back physically but he will never really be back in spirit.   

The prose of Henry Green is a great joy to read.   I find I cannot describe or explain why I like it so much but I do.   He is a real master at conversations.   Charley cannot really express his emotions and maybe he is expressive of the muted character of the British   Green's prose is probably not for everyone, it is odd.     It needs to be read slowly and savored.   

The ending which I will leave unspoiled is simply devastating.    I admit I was shocked by it and find it hard to fully understand.

Green stopped writing novels and lived on for another twenty years.   During this time he became very absorbed in study the Ottoman Empire and did some very serious drinking.  

I suggest those new to Green start with Loving, which most consider his best work, or my personal favorite, Party Going.   If you do not have access to a library which will have one of Green's books, the practical thing to do is to buy the three book collection which actually costs about the same as just Back does.  I also have his novel based on his experiences as a volunteer fireman during WWII in London, Concluding and hope to read in in 2012 or maybe I will wait for Harry Green Week in 2013!

Please share your experience with Green with is and go to Winston's Dad for a lot more information and links to other posts on Green.   

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

Of the Green books I know about, I'd say this one has more appeal, although I enjoyed the prose of party going, the characters were less appealing, Not down to the writing just who they were, although there's a sense of foreboding that they'll soon be getting a bit of a wake up.

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-greens books are strange for sure-I am looking forward to reading the one about his experiences as a volunteer fireman during WWII

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

I enjoyed this post on Henry Green very much, Mel U.
I haven't read him for a long time.

Mel u said...

Órfhlaith Foyle-thanks very much for your comment and visit

Caroline said...

I often approach new to me writers without knowing a lot about them and so I'm grateful for this background information. I love what Bowen said about him. Dilaogue is important to me and I feel many, even great writers, fail terribly. Henry Green doesn't. This sound slike real people talking. I have read a novel by josipovici last summer and really didn't like it and when I read Green, I thought " That's what Josipovici tried to do but failed". Now I feel I can finally write that review.
Joy, is a ood word, to describe reading Green. And like you, I can't really say why it fills me with so much joy to read him. Because it feels so alive?
I hope I can find Back as well. Another one I would like to read. His titles are special, I like them very much.

stujallen said...

He is maybe the best dialogue writer in english fiction he said he thought dialogue drove the narrative more than internal thoughts ,great review I buy this ready for next year ,all the best stu

Mel u said...

Caroline-I really love reading Green-I wish I could do a better job of explaining why I like him so much-a lot of it is just his wonderful strange quirky at times sentence structure

stuallen-maybe I will save Caught for next year-I am very glad you hosted a Harry Green event-

Anonymous said...

Hi Mel: You have been busy! I am catching up too. Thanks for yourrecommendation of Henry Green - a writer friend of Bowen is sure to be interesting and thanks for the heads up on the three in one edition, especially for noting availability on kindle. Happy reading, Ruby