Loving. Henry Green.

Green, Henry. Loving. New York Reviews, New York. 1945. F;11/16

This writer was covered in a New Yorker article and I guess I thought I would have a go at something a bit arcane, so downloaded it and after reading the effusively complementary introduction by Roxana Robinson carried on. It is arcane, and to my particular slant doesn’t measure up to Robinson’s raves, but I had one little captivating experience and never got really bored, because although the writing is parochial and dated, there was charm and intelligence on offer too.

We have a castle in Ireland near the end of World War II, with aristocratic owners plus friends and family forming a sort of Greek chorus to accompany the intrigues among the serving staff. There is enough plot interest and complexity what with my lady missing her expensive ring, relatives back in England withstanding the bombing, a potential IRA agent, an illicit couple surprised in bed one morning, and romantic interest between the new chief butler and a very cute young maid.

I still found the going a bit tedious until about three quarters of the way through, due to the mid-20th-century and UK Upstairs/Downstairs venue and idiom. With the owners away, ambiguity about what is going on with the missing ring and an insurance man who may be an IRA agent’s appearance coincide, and for some reason this seemed to throw a lateral beam on the characters and events so there was a bit of a different focus and enhanced liveliness. This atmosphere, no doubt subjective with me, persisted though diminished through to the abrupt ending, where Mr. Green appeared suddenly to have had enough, and to have dropped the project and gone off to do something else.

There was also enough moral ambiguity and reflection in the character of the lead butler Raunce, and some interesting relationship development between him and his pretty girlfriend Edith to keep me wondering, even though a lot of that was along the lines of Is this guy credible or not? There are a couple of crabby, conniving, and in one case alcoholic older servants to add some shading as well.

Really satisfying deep appreciation of older fiction is an acquired taste I don’t really have, in spite of having taken a couple of senior fiction courses back in university. Moll Flanders, Tristram Shandy, Hawthorne, and Moby Dick were a struggle then and I think would be now if I went back to them. I’m still only 10% of the way into the older translation of Remembrance of Things Past, and probably started it for a sort of tweedy old narcissism that truth be told I don’t wear all that naturally.

But if you like that kind of thing, you might like this one. 7.7/8.1.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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