Thursday 19 May 2011

Reading up my Greens

I was in a bookshop a little while ago (I know - shocker, right?) and came across a bunch of Henry Green novels. I bought an old Penguin edition of Loving a while ago, but, for some reason, it wasn't calling out to me. I love old Penguins sometimes, but they're so plain that if I don't know much about an author beforehand, they probably won't tempt me.

And these were rather pretty editions - lovely American paperbacks, which have a much nicer feel to them than modern British paperbacks. [EDIT: I am selling my country short! John Self points out in the comments that these editions are actually from The Harvill Press in the UK]

I stood in the shop for quite a few minutes, reading and re-reading the blurbs on the back of the five Henry Green novels they had in stock, trying to decide which was the most appealing. I put one after the other back on the shelf; picked them up again; put them back...

Well. As you can see - in the end, I bought the lot. I just couldn't decide. Doting, Back, Party Going, Concluding, and Blindness are now on my bedroom floor, waiting to be added to LibraryThing.

Have you read any of them, and which should be my first Henry Green novel? (Please say one of these five... I don't want to buy any more until I've read at least three of these!) Thoughts?


  1. I've read Loving, and thought it was terrific. No news on any of these pretty ones, though!

  2. Now I see the plainness of the old Penguins as the most enticing part. It makes reading an adventure, and stops me letting my preconceptions get in the way of discovering something new.

    And the risk is only small: Penguin specialised in publishing quality fiction and so books without merit have been filtered out.

    There are so many authors to discover, I haven't made it to Henry Green yet...

  3. Henry Green is a very interesting but (in my view) not particularly 'easy' author to read. If you look at the opening lines of Party Going - something about a bird in fog crashing into something and falling to the ground, if memory serves - you'll see that he has an odd style, stripping away what he considers to be unnecessary elements (such as 'the' and 'a'!). He's essentially a modernist. Nonetheless, I do think his books have a real beauty to them if you can settle into the language. Of the books you've got, I think Party Going would be regarded as the best (Living, set in an industrial town, and Loving, which Jenny mentions, and which is set in a large country house and was made into a BBC series ten years or so ago, would also be regarded as his essential novels). If you want an easier entry into him, I believe Blindness, which was his first novel, is less stylistically 'difficult' than the others, so it might be worth a go. I hope you like him and report back! You've reminded me to try some more of his books too.

    Incidentally, I think those editions you picture, which are quite beautiful, aren't American but are by The Harvill Press, published in the UK in the early 1990s. Harvill was then an independent run by the great Christopher MacLehose, though it's since been subsumed into the Random House group and merged with Secker & Warburg to make Harvill Secker.

  4. Oh I have loving in that edition! Enjoyed it.

  5. Some years ago I read Blindness but did not go on to search for further writings by William Green which means I wasn't captured.The copies are beautiful though.Isn't it remarable how a cover can draw you in.And finds like these can become treasures.

  6. I have a Penguin edition (American) that combines Loving, Living, and Party Going. I've only read Loving so far, and I agree his style is a little harder than I was expecting. I did get through it but haven't been compelled to try the other two. I'll wait and see what you think, maybe I'll give him another try sometime.

  7. The problem with your persuasive manner Simon is you make me want to follow you on whatever path of book collecting craziness you wander down. I was thinking that I too needed to go out and find these books. But then John Self's helpful description of Green's work followed up by Karen K's comment saved me from the madness. On the other hand I have finally taken to reading a little Tove Jansson and so far so good.

  8. I loved party going when I read it have another of his books on my shelves ,love look of the Harvill editions ,Iread them in order written simon ,all the best stu

  9. Jenny - tut tut, I told you to restrict yourself to the pretty ones! ;)

    Karyn - you're right, of course, sometimes the complete surprise of a Penguin can be great. No preconceptions. But I usually find I need *some* preconceptions to make me choose a book from the hundreds I have waiting to be read!

    John Self - thanks for the tip about them not being American, I should have checked before I blithely claimed that!
    I do love a modernist writer, so long as I know that's what I'm getting - well, I love some and loathe others, so it's a gamble. Thanks so much for your guide to where to start - if Blindness was his first novel, perhaps I'll start there.

    Verity - now, of course, without having read a word of Green, I want to buy them all in this series!

    Karen - thanks for fair warning! We'll have to see... I am definitely intrigued by Green now.

    Thomas - hahaha, bless your heart! Come with me down crazy book avenues, do! But maybe you're wise to resist. Hurrah, however, for your reading Tove Jansson - I look forward to your verdict. So long as it is that I was right.

    Stu - I've never deliberately read an author chronologically, and it might be fun to do that with Green.


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