Saturday 31 December 2016

Henry Green, Party Going

Henry Green's Party Going (the gathering prior to departure rather than the habit of going to parties) revolves around a London station in a fog so dense a pigeon flew into a balustrade and fell down dead in front of a Miss Fellowes, who, wondering about fleas, washed it, wrapped it in brown paper and carried it to the rendezvous.

Henry Green avoids the definite article. He avoids the departure. He swirls with that fog inside and outside a London station. By page thirty-nine everyone is there, though people come and go, and some may not have come across others yet. This, says our narrator, was the beginning of a time for our party.

A time of double-postmarked letters, and divine tea and crumpets. As well as a nervousness—this was late nineteen thirties—fog went far beyond this London station, an old-fashioned station where travel was momentous, people could gather or fail to gather for hours on end, waiting for a boat train, for any train at all, piles of luggage around them. While you wait you might open a case.
If she had no memory for words she could always tell what she had worn each time she met him. Turning over her clothes as they had been packed she was turning over days. 
The station is thronging with travellers who are not travelling. Everyone, says our narrator, looks as if they've had enough. There's a blankness punctuated by tiny satisfactions—when going to sit by a bar was an idea—crossing the Channel in the company of other people was an idea too, if there were any trains.

Read a chapter of this supple disquiet in the middle of the night, reader, traveller, old thing, and you're made, like a mobster, like a nannie, you're swirling with your people in a fog of your own making.

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