Henry Green is an early twentieth-century British novelist who completely slipped under my radar. I went from knowing nothing about him to suddenly, within the past few months, hearing him mentioned and praised by a variety of completely separate sources. I was a little bit intrigued, and ultimately motivated to pick up a collection of three of his novels, Loving, Living, Party Going, because it held the promise of covering that upstairs/ downstairs, high class/ low class territory that I've been so obsessed with lately.
At the risk of sounding a little like a teacher's pet, I'll say that I found these to be challenging but rewarding novels. The majority of the writing is dialogue, with very little exposition. This effect, in combination with some heavy regional dialects, was a little disorienting and hard to get into at first. Once I fell into its rhythm, though, I was quickly pulled into the intertwined storylines of the characters. I kept coming back to the idea that these were stories being told through the streams of consciousness of entire groups of people.
The group in the Irish country house setting of Loving is made up of upper class homeowners and their servants. They go about their lives, complete with love affairs, family squabbles, and domestic disputes, and deal with rising tensions as they anxiously watch WWII from afar. Living (which, truth be told, was my least favorite of the three) centers around a Birmingham, England factory and follows the conflicting interests of the wealthy owners, aging workers looking to maintain their status quo, and young men dreaming of escaping the factory for a better life. And in Party Going, perhaps the easiest of the three, a group of friends deals with various major and minor crises that arise when they become stranded in a railway station on their way to a holiday abroad.
In all three, there's something strangely compelling about the way Green's writing style showcases his subject matter. The hopes and fears of his characters are are set against the backdrop minor daily events and petty interactions with others. They're striking novels that might not be everyone's cup of tea, but that definitely made a strong impression on me.