Books Magazine

Book #62: Loving

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

Terry Southern once called Henry Green, author of Loving, a “writer’s writer’s writer.”

I’m not really sure what that means. But, basically, Southern—like many of his peers—thought Green was pretty awesome. Among authors, he’s almost universally loved, though he’s not always that familiar to readers like me.

So the moment you pick up Loving, you can expect to read some beautiful writing and engaging dialogue. He’s very poetic.

But as I’ve said before, I’m a story guy. I like a good plot. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy, detailed plot, but there has to be some meat there.

That’s why I hated A Dance To The Music Of Time. It was 3,000 pages of nothing.

And as much as I like Henry Green and his writing, Loving left me underwhelmed. A little romance, a little drama between the “downstairs” British servants and “upstairs” Irish residents of a sprawling Irish country house, but there’s not much else there.

The story focuses on the servants of the house, and the drama they deal with, during World War 2. There’s infidelity, romance, theft. Loving is like Downton Abbey lite, and it was Downton Abbey long before Downton Abbey was cool.

Fortunately, Loving was only 200ish pages long, which might be my maximum attention span for an underwhelming, dull story (see Mrs. Dalloway).

Green’s prose is beautiful, though, at times, not very approachable. I’ve said it many times while blogging about this book, but he reminds me a lot of Fitzgerald.

Where Green goes a step further, though, is his dialogue. The casual, unforced nature of the character conversations is really engaging and compelling.

Like this:

When the other Albert came to the kitchen for his tea that same afternoon he found Mrs Welch asleep with her head on the massive table. Labouring she lifted heavy bloodshot eyes in his direction.

“Well?” she asked.

“I been out,” he answered sly.

“Out where?”

“We was round the back,” he said.

“And who’s we?” she wanted to know as she scratched a vast soft thigh. She gave a wide yawn.

“The young leddies,” he replied. He passed a hand over his forehead as if he could tidy his hair with that one gesture and came to sit quiet opposite auntie.

“Not with that Edith?” she enquired sharp.

“Oh no’m.”

“You’re positive?” and Mrs Welch leant across. “For you know what I told you?”

“Yes’m.”

“What was that then?”

“That I weren’t to have nothing more to do with ‘er ever,” the boy repeated.

And you get the point. The dialogue is short and punchy and helps the story move quickly in spots. Most of the limited story takes place through the dialogue, as well.

One unusual technique Green uses, and it’s one I’ve never seen before in a novel, is the way he transitions between settings.

For example, two characters will be talking and one of them will look out a window, through which they see two other characters walking.

Henry Green (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Henry Green (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Instantly, Green transfers the scene to the outside characters. This technique actually works well, but it’s jarring the first couple of times you encounter it.

As I write this review, I keep trying to think of positive things to say about Loving, other than the few things I’ve mentioned above. And I just have nothing.

There’s nothing overwhelmingly negative, but I feel indifferent about this novel and that’s almost worse. When you dislike something, you’ll remember it. When you’re indifferent, you’ll forget it.

If you’re a major Downton Abbey fan, this novel is worth a read. You might appreciate it more than I did.

Honestly, I’ll probably forget it as soon as I put it on the shelf.

Sorry, Henry Green. Not that you would care, but I like you a lot better than Loving.

Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “Once upon a day an old butler called Eldon lay dying in his room attended by the head housemaid, Miss Agatha Burch.”

The Meaning: I honestly have no idea how the generic title, Loving, relates to the story in this novel. Well, characters fall in love with each other, so maybe it’s that obvious. The present participle (-ing) seems to be one of Green’s favorites, seeing as his other novels include Living, Party Going, Concluding, Nothing, and Doting.

Highlights: Wonderful, fast-moving dialogue. Green is a great writer.

Lowlights: Light, forgettable story. Nothing that interesting about the characters.

Memorable Line: “While those children ran screaming down to where great rollers diminished to fans of milk new from the udder upon pressed sand, Albert laid himself under a hedge all over which red fuchsia bells swung without a note in the wind the sure travelling sea brought with its heavy swell.”

Final Thoughts: Overall, this was a dull story saved by great writing. I wanted a little more from Loving, but I don’t feel like it delivered.  Sadly, I’ll be ranking this one fairly low in my totally meaningless and highly subjective rankings.


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