7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Roe and Pye,
This review is from: Caught (London Writing) (Paperback)
A great writer of the mid 20th century, someone who was not content to build an oeuvre of similar books, and a man who writes counter-culturally, across class, society and politics, Henry Green is difficult to pin down.
In this novel he writes about a group of men who have signed on as Auxilliary fire-fighters as war becomes a reality in Britain at the beginning of 1941. Richard Roe is upper middle-class, though that is not quite the most important thing about him as he later proves. The majority of the auxiliaries are working class, including Pye, the sub-station chief. It transpires that Pye's sister abducted Christopher, Roe's five year-old son, from a chain store when he was out with his nanny, shortly before the novel begins. Pye took him to the police who reunited him with his father (his mother had recently died - we do not learn how) and the sister was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. The extraordinary coincidence of Pye turning out, a matter of months from this incident, to be Roe's sub-station chief leaves both men embarrassed and wary, but Roe copes better than Pye.
Pye is a complex character - the novel is as much about him as it is about Roe - but not the only complex character we meet. As I have tended to find with Green's characters, they become remarkably real to the reader - even more real after the book is finished. Pye is a womaniser, a trades unionist, a worrier but a man who wants to help his fellows rather than be their boss. He is not lucky in his dealings with the Fire service's upper echelons, partly because he is led by his senses rather too easily and falling for a tartish upper class girl, indeed, becoming obsessed by her, is one of his contributory mistakes to the events that will lead to disaster for him.
Roe, on the other hand, is lucky. Though he has lost the love of his life, his wife, he latches onto Hilly, a driver at the station, and he has his son, who is being cared for by his supportive sister-in-law, Dy. But the main events are played out among the fire fighters themselves. They are extraordinarily real and energetically individual. In a long section near the end the chaos and danger of fire-fighting in London is unforgettably portrayed.
What remains after reading this novel is a curious feeling that much of the novel was somewhat dull in tone, but at the same time, it has taken on the polish of truth and honesty. It is not exactly an enjoyable read, but instead seems somehow an entirely necessary one.
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Initial post: 3 Dec 2013 17:20:00 GMT
Evidently the writer was a time traveller... :-)
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Dec 2013 11:44:27 GMT
Eileen Shaw says:
Ah - yes - That should have been the 20th Century. I shall change it - Thanks for the hint.
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