Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 18, 2015

Nothing, by Henry Green

NothingNothing, by British author Henry Green (1905-1973) is a sly comedy of manners that is almost Shakespearean in its twists and turns.  It features a young couple who become engaged to marry but – having discovered some gossip – fear that they may be siblings, because their respective parents had an affair in the past.  The engagement offers opportunities for their parents to have renewed close contact, which in turn creates jealousies from their respective suitors, and a denouément that is breathtaking.

The characterisation is classic Green.  Mrs Jane Weatherby, Philip’s widowed mother, is a wily, manipulative woman who uses her great charm and still attractive appearance to orchestrate events.  She thinks that bluestocking Mary who works in a government office isn’t good enough for her Philip.  Widower John Pomfret, on the other hand is doubtful about Philip because he uses the wrong tailor and has provided an inadequate engagement ring.  These objections identify these parents as relics of a passing social world, bemoaning their reduced circumstances in the postwar era where Mrs Weatherby has only an unpunctual Italian cook who seems to be feeding her younger daughter’s neuroses as well as making the meals, and John Pomfret can’t really afford his club any more.

Delivered through witty dialogue the plot advances with all kinds of droll asides: jealous Liz Jennings who drinks too much and – on the shelf at 26 – is avid in her pursuit of older men; Elaine Winder, a gossip who can be relied on to spread disingenuous stories; and Richard Abbott an admirer of Jane Weatherby who tries to play a straight bat as a gentleman should.  There is also a running gag (which doesn’t sound funny, but is) about Arthur Morris who has to have a toe amputated after he got a nail through his shoe.  It is Arthur, who becomes progressively more ill in hospital who might know the truth about Philip and Mary’s true relationship…

I bought this book in the London Review Bookshop on my recent (aborted) travels before things went awry.  Stu from Winston’s Dad had introduced me to Henry Green and so when I saw this trio of Green novels, it appealed immediately.  Well, events conspired to make reading it a somewhat disjointed process, so I may not have done it full justice in this brief review, but if you haven’t tried Green, Nothing is a good one to start with, or Loving which I read a year or so ago and enjoyed very much too.

The other two titles still in store to read are Doting and Blindness. 

PS Re the forthcoming draw for the giveaway for Paddy O’Reilly’s new book, I’ll do that ASAP, I just felt I had to write this review first while the book is fresh in my mind.  I have a lot on my plate up here in Qld because of the situation with my parents, and I have to fit blogging in to scraps of time as they arise.

Author: Henry Green
Title: Nothing, Doting, Blindness
Publisher: Vintage Classics 2008
ISBN: 9780099481485
Source: Personal library, purchased from the London Review Bookshop.

 


Responses

  1. Henry Green is another of my favorites. I read his other threesome (not trilogy) which contains Living, Loving, and Party Going first, and after that ‘Nothing, Doting, and Blindness. Also a separate novel Back. I do enjoy his drollness. He could write about nothing and make it fascinating.

  2. I have this one in the stack and you’ve made it sound like something I’d like a lot.

  3. I remember reading Henry Green novels, and enjoying them all. His novels remind me of Beryl Bainbridge stories. The characters in their stories are about ordinary people who become ones you care about.

  4. I still haven’t read anything by Green but he sounds like an author I’d like.

    That’s a great cover as well!

    • I love him… he’s so sharp about people! (I think) it said in the intro that he was an introspective person, but I think he must have spent a bit of time just watching and listening to people to get them to be so authentic…

  5. Thinking of you & your family, Lisa. Take care.


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