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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Party Going (1939) by Henry Green

Book Review
Party Going (1939)
by Henry Green

  English author Henry Green placed four titles into the 1001 Books Project:  Blindness (1926), about a blind soldier after World War I.  Living (1929), about the lives of Birmingham factor workers. Loving(1945), about the servants in an Anglo-Irish castle during World War II and Party Going.  The library edition of Party Going is part of a three-in-one Penguin classic's edition along with Loving and Living.  The foreword to this edition is written by John Updike, and if you take Updike's introduction with Living, Party Going and Blindness you have the portrait of an author whose work places him after the Modernists but before the careful character driven fiction of mid to late twentieth century, or 'New Yorker short story fiction" as I think of it.
  This style is a kind of literary miniaturism.  Unlike the high modernists, who deployed the everyday and mundane in the service of grand ideas about life, the universe and everything, Green does not seem to be concerned with the world outside the universe of the particular characters.  These characters are sharply drawn.  Shifts between narrators are accomplished with a  minimum of fuss.  Green is in the business of domesticating the disorienting narrative techniques of the high modernists.

   Party Going takes place entirely in a single afternoon, at a fogged-in train station, with the main characters huddled at a close by hotel while crowds mill about aimlessly outside.  As the two hundred page story spools out, the upper class characters are questioned about infidelity.  Green is a careful, subtle writer, and my thought is that he wrote on multiple levels.  The Wikipedia entry for this book hints at a "symbolic" analysis of Party Going that relies on Greek mythology and the god of Hermes.   I certainly didn't get that, and Updike doesn't mention literary symbolism in his career summarizing foreword


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