Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Digby Durrant, reviewing Romancing. The Life and Work of Henry Green (by Jeremy Treglown) ten years ago:

The war saved Green. He had managed to write Party Going, a satire about the shallowness of the “flash social milieu” of which he had been a part, but it had taken him ten years. He was proud of being one of the first to join the Fire Service. A sensation of purposeful activity such as he had not felt since his early days in Birmingham, put the spring back into his step. The Blitz which Green describes in Caught was short but terrible, frightening but exhilarating. Green describes not only fighting fires from the inside of burning buildings, expecting the walls to collapse around them but also the shock and beauty of sudden macabre moments—‘the pigeons catching fire in the air’—and when the All Clear sounded the scramble to reach a rendezvous with the girl of the moment.
If it perhaps looks as thought that extraordinary, piercing image of the pigeons (the more piercing since it is conjured not from a metaphysical poet’s imagination, but observed from life) illuminates the real subject, the eroticised human intensity and connection of the last words. I tend to think something the reverse is true. Sex, though marvellous, is in one sense the commonest thing in the world; those pigeons are, in their horrifying beauty, a literalised poetic image for a kind of agonised orgasmic death that jumps off from our actual experience in strange, unique directions.

From the same review I discover that George Painter (Proust’s biographer, no less) praised Green’s Concluding as ‘unforgettable’ but added ‘the reader will never know just what it is he’s unable to forget.’ That’s just beautiful. If I have any ambition left as a writer, it might be to inspire such a reaction. Goronwy Ree’s assessment of Green (‘Very near to genius, if genius means a completely individual view of life which reveals reality in an entirely new and unexpected light’) looks rather run-of-the-mill by comparison.

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