Loving, Living, Party Going Paperback – 6 Oct. 2005
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Heartbreaking, funny and written with such luminous prose - he's the most brilliant, and neglected, of English writers, Red Magazine
Perhaps the best introduction to another great original of the English novel, who learned from Firbank’s economy, but who had his own quite different imaginative world. Loving, set among the servants of an Irish country house, combines his superbly truthful ear for how people really speak with an unforgettable vein of surreal poetry -- Alan Hollinghurst, New York Times
The most original, the best writer of his time -- Rebecca West
The most gifted prose writer of his generation -- V. S. Pritchett
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Yes - they are hard work on one level, but that's only because they break modern conventions of novel writing much as Wilf Self has done in Umbrella. However, once you fall into the rhythm of Green's lyrical dialogue it is no more difficult to read than a play and when he breaks from dialogue to describe a rare piece of location the images - for example, the conversations shouted over the sound of the relentlessly crashing surf in Loving - live on long after you have finished the book.
Living is much better. Set around a foundry in Birmingham in the 1920s, it tells of the narrow lives of the workers and their families, plus the scheming managers above them, and the pampered son of the owner, who ponders how to make his mark. These characters, with all their pride, selfishness, fears and yearning, are brought to life vividly. Furthermore, the prose is a joy. Green drops articles and conjunctions to approximate the worker's dialect, and in doing so creates a voice that is rugged and terse, but still capable of lyricism, like the people themselves.
Finally, Party Going is another exploration of class, inner lives and crossed ambitions. This time a party of the leisured class are trapped in a fog-bound train station, where they chafe and conspire busily. It's a knotty little comedy of manners, executed with insight and a dry wit. However, it feels a bit frivolous after Living, which is the real gem here.
The Vintage paperback edition is very poor quality - it is printed on cheap, thin paper and the text has been printed at an angle on the page so that the lines are on a slope up from left to right.
This is the second Vintage Classics paperback I have bought recently and the other was also a shoddy edition. I shall try to avoid the imprint in future.
The work depends on delicate nuances of meaning inaccurate text destroys those
The result is like reading a text set down in dialect, or, in a strange way, Chaucer in the original. The experience is closer to absorbing the spoken word, to hearing talking rather than to reading writing, to the nature of 'parole' (direct speech) rather than 'ecriture' (written prose).
Should this be counted as experimental modernism? Maybe not. Whatever, the novel stresses voice in a manner not often encountered in English literature (Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners might be a point of comparison).
Do read it; do savour it.