Monday 11 May 2015

Inside the parenthesis of a streaming cold, I read Loving by Henry Green, all of it in one day, between naps. It's a downstairs tale in a big house in Ireland during World War Two, though you could say it's a tale only in its first and last lines: 'Once upon a day an old butler called Eldon lay dying in his room', and, 'Over in England they were married and lived happily ever after'. What goes on in between is far more odd and poetic. Although narratives thread together – a lost sapphire ring, a dead peacock, a bit of fiddling of the books – downstairs life proceeds in the way of a confined society: formless when you're inside it, jumpy on the page. Aristocratic, or at least mandarin, economy of diction meets backstairs vernacular in a looping, wonky dance, everything truncated, as if abandoned in a rush: quick sparkles in the chandeliers, a waste of giggling behind housemaids' eyes, stolen peacock eggs preserved in waterglass. Henry Green (originally Yorke) was an aristocrat (his wife, the Hon. Adelaide Biddulph, was known as Dig, which proves that she had to prove nothing to anyone) and a businessman (a factory inherited from his father) for whom people he met on the factory floor and as a soldier in the war offered the bottomless fascination of the Other as well as the key to the ordinary impulses of the Self.

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