Party Going by Henry Green
It’s Henry Green Week hosted by Winston’s Dad. Before Stu decided to champion this underappreciated British author, who mostly wrote in the second quarter of the 20th C, I’d never heard of him – but he’s quite a discovery…
I bought an edition which collected three of his novels together - Living, Loving and Party Going. Loving is perhaps his best known but, time being short, I opted for Party Going, the shortest of the three; his third novel which was published in 1939.
If you take the title literally, Party Going tells you all about itself in just two words. A group of bright young things are getting ready to go to a house party in the south of France. They’re meeting at the station to catch the boat train from London. However a pea-souper fog has descended and the trains aren’t going anywhere. So the entire novel takes place around the station and the adjacent hotel where the group retire to.
The group gradually gather, together with their piles of luggage. There’s Robert and Claire, whose Aunt, Miss Fellowes has come to see them off, only to have a funny turn. There’s Miss Crevy – Angela, whose young man Robin has come to see her off, but is jealous that he’s not going. Evelyn Henderson is guardian of the tickets; Julia, whose uncle is a director of the train line; and Alex a friend of the host who, at the start of the novel is noted by his absence, for Max is busy trying to get rid of his girlfriend Amabel, whom he hasn’t invited. He’s thinking of throwing her over for Julia.
Soon it becomes clear that no trains will be going anywhere in a hurry, and the station is filling up with people who can’t get home. In sweeps Max, leaves his man to guard all the luggage and whisks his party off to the hotel where he books three rooms – one for him – and Julia if he’s lucky, one for the ill aunt, and one for the others to see out the wait.
So the scene is set – a nice and claustrophobic situation has been quite naturally engineered, and the young things sit around, drink, bicker and gossip. Max can’t stand all this, and manages to take Julia upstairs; where she’s looking out of the window into the station concourse …
And as she watched she saw this crowd was in some way different. It could not be larger as there was no room, but in one section under her window it seemed to be swaying like branches rock in a light wind and, paying greater attention, she seemed to hear a continuous murmur coming from it. When she noticed heads everywhere turned towards that section just below she flung her window up. Max said: ‘Don’t go and let all that in,’ and she heard them chanting beneath: ‘WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS.’ Also that raw air came in, harsh with fog and from somewhere a smell of cooking, there was a shriek from somewhere in the crowd, it was on a vast scale and not far above her was that vault of glass which was blue now instead of green, now that she was closer to it. She had forgotten what it was like to be outside, what it smelled and felt like, and she had not realised what this crowd was, just seeing it through glass. It went on chanting WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS from that one section which surged to and fro…
Life is about to get more complicated too, for Max hasn’t counted on the detective-like abilities of Amabel to seek them out.
They are, for the most part, a horrid bunch. Amabel is conniving cow, who batters men into compliance, ordering Alex about like a personal slave. Robert has cleared off to the bar for most of the story. Claire is concerned about her aunt, but naturally finds her illness detracts from her limelight. Angela – Miss Crevy – Green chops and changes between formal and informal throughout with her name, is the newbie in the group and rather out of her depth. They are all self-obsessed, bad at listening, and have personal axes to grind. Max is a typical rich playboy, but doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and who with, but is less judgemental than the others, which is a relief, for the rest are a selfish lot. There’s nothing like a comedy of manners set in a closed situation to stir things up.
There are no formal chapters in this novel, and few breaks in the text – Green also frequently cuts mid-paragraph to different voices all the time, requiring you to be on your toes to know whose PoV you’re in. Green also has a habit of leaving out words like ‘the’, so it can make for a demanding read. He was clearly ahead of his time! In between however, the descriptive passages such as the above excerpt are rather fine.
So thanks Stu, for introducing a fascinating author new to me. One I’ll look forward to reading a lot more of. (8.5/10)
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I bought my book. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Loving, Living, Party Going