Grant Faulkner's Reviews > Loving

Loving by Henry Green
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Jul 10, 2008

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It’s always fascinating to read a book and be at odds with other critics. The questions span from “Am I simply the wrong reader for this book?” to “Do I have too many kids and soccer games going on to thoughtfully assess this book?” to “Did these critics have too many damn kids and activities to decently evaluate the book?”

Elizabeth Bowen said that Henry Green’s novels “reproduce, as few English novels do, the actual sensations of living.”

W.H. Auden called him the finest living English novelist.

Francine Prose put Loving on her list of “Books to Be Read Immediately.”

John Updike praises Green for “this surrender of self, this submersion of opinions and personality in the intensity of witnessing ‘life itself.’”

It’s this consistent emphasis on “reproduction” and “objectivity” that troubles me. Green is too frequently a stenographer when I want him to be an author.

Sure the dialogue is, well, realistic, true to life, etc., but it doesn’t hold nearly the same subtext as, say, Hemingway, who also privileged the author as an objective witness. In fact, the reason Hemingway reads better than Green, and is more illuminating, is because he never truly dared to actually surrender himself (thank God!).

Henry Green said that he aimed to “create ‘life’ which does not eat, procreate, or drink, but which can live in people who are alive.” Updike praises Green as a “saint of the mundane,” which is unfortunately accurate: Green bathes in the mundane, breathes the mundane, eats the mundane—and procreates in the mundane. In fact, my reading experience was so mundane that I kept getting distracted by the dishes, the laundry, and the bills, but not by any of the big life questions and thoughts I like to read for.

Updike writes that Green’s “observations of the world appear as devoid of prejudice and preconception as a child’s.” I only wish he could have presented a scene from a child’s point of view, with the jarring perspective that children so often provide simply because they are not “saints of mundane,” but steeped in the kind of authorial personality that continually demands interpretation and reinterpretation.

I do agree with one of Updike’s comments. He calls Green’s novels “photographs of a vanished England,” which is my overwhelming response to Loving. I felt as if I were walking through an odd sort of literary museum, observing some of the interesting details of class differences in England, eavesdropping, but never quite experiencing the high points of dramatic intrigue, a story that is shaped with a point of view—the fundamental characteristics of a meaningful narrative.

I’m sure that Green’s novels served a more forceful and urgent purpose in the era he wrote them (from approximately 1920 to 1950), and he’s a capable author in certain ways. He does create a polyphony of voices in the novel, so that life sounds like a hammering dialogue of competing needs. He’s just not the stylist I desire—or more accurately, he doesn’t convey the necessary transmutation that defines art. I don’t want novelists to just be witnesses, after all—the idea of aspiring to pure and faithful mimesis in a literal sense was essentially exhausted by Zola. Novelists need personality because they need a point of view.

But then again, I might be the wrong reader for Henry Green. Or I was too distracted by things like school auctions to give him his proper due.
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03/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Shirley (new)

Shirley I'm relieved that I don't feel compelled to read this book. I have too many others that people recommended. Getting information about books not to read is equally helpful. Doing laundry does sound like more fun than slogging through Loving.

Grant Faulkner Thanks Shirley. I guess I've saved a couple of people time. My wife thanked me as well for saving her from a lot of "dreary tea drinking," as she put it. But then again, a lot of high falutin' authors seem to love this guy, so maybe my opinion is way off.

message 3: by Shirley (new)

Shirley I trust your judgment WAY MORE.

I hope you can find time to read Khirbet Khizeh. I think the writing plus the political message makes it very worthwhile.

Grant Faulkner Yes, I meant to comment on your write-up. If you gave it five stars, it must be good. I missed the review in the Times, but I'll put this on my list. Wait a minute, is this fair: I took a book off of your list, and you added one to mine?

message 5: by Shirley (new)

Shirley I think it is very fair. The book I'm reading now, Birds without Wings, is very long, and I can't add another one to my list.

message 6: by Tyler (new)

Tyler I couldn't agree more.

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