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Monday, February 17

Loving by Henry Green

Henry Green is a rather recent acquaintance of mine, an unexpected one, I should say. I hear he was a handsome man, an old-school writer with a declared interest in noting down the way people struck sparks off each other. I wouldn't know as he happened to impart both his wisdom and grace upon other fortunate readers of his, long before I was born. Yet, once I started reading his books, I have got the feeling of the life in it and the way it mirrored back into my own light. And this is something rare and precious in a book, such as Loving, which really struck a chord with my emotions.

Well, much to my open-mindedness, when it comes to reading, I find myself drawn to books that resonate with my literary taste for magic realism and Loving is so not the case. But we all love stories and we all grew up on the magical, enchanted words Once upon a time so once I began reading, I couldn't put it aside. It was unexpected in style, narrative form, structure, grammar, you name it. In a word, a book with a hidden, mesmerizing touch that sneaked upon me in no time. Loving is the story of the household staff of  Mrs. Tennant's Castle, in the beginning of the Second World War in Ireland. Upon the unfortunate death of Mr Eldon, the butler, Charley Raunce assumes the position much to the bewilderment of the other members of the servant class. Miss Burch, the housekeeper, is the one person who openly disapproves of this sudden change from head footman to butler. Raunce is not only ambitious but he immediately becomes interesting in the eyes of young Edith, an underhousemaid of great beauty. Scheming their way through, the staff manages to draw the attention of Mrs. Tennant who tries not to mingle, following the unwritten rule of class distinction, yet finds herself caught in Raunce's manipulative actions. In her absence, the servants have amusing, intriguing dialogues from the fate of peacocks, to a missing valuable ring, back to the IRA threat, the unexpected visit of an insurance inspector, Mrs. Jack's affair in the absence of her husband, Mrs. Tennant's son. Love is the spice that wraps up everything in a fine veil, rendering the hidden passions behind the actions of the domestic staff. The love story between the 40 year old butler and the younger Edie, the strange relationship between Paddy, the lampman and the other young housemaid, Kate, Miss Burch's uptight manner of judging things and people, Albert the pantry boy, the gin-drinking cook Mrs Welch, and the old nanny, Miss Swift are all drawn in vivid colours, always in a state of curiosity or anxiety. Yet when the ladies of the house take a trip to London, the domestic staff gains a sudden sense of power and certain distinct personalities break the lines. The IRA menace, whether real or imaginary, is used by the butler to control the rest of them, whereas he can go on taking care of his own affairs. The mundane, repetitive description of their actions is overshadowed by the sensitive moments when love settles in:

‘Oh Edie,’ he gasped moving forward. The room had grown immeasurably dark from the storm massed outside. Their two bodies flowed into one as he put his arms about her. The shape they made was crowned with his head, on top of a white sharp curved neck, dominating and cruel over the blur that was her mass of hair through which her lips sucked at him warm and heady.
‘Edie,’ he muttered breaking away only to drive his face down into hers once more. But he was pressing her back into a bow shape. ‘Edie,’ he called again.

The tale of the scheming lower-class employees comes to an end in the same usual manner And they lived happily ever after -although you still get the feeling that their lively dialogues go on existing in and out of ourselves, a little world revolving around itself, where human nature lives unfiltered in a seductive and pleasing manner.

Henry Green chose to remain an anonymous writer all his life and his novels still pass unnoticed, yet to the fortunate eyes and minds, they are rich beyond comprehension, delicate literary jewels that took simple characters out of their dull lives and added sparkle to their journeys. To him, writing was a fine art and his words are a compliment to the practitioners of the craft. In his memoir, Pack My Bag, he described prose in this way:
Prose is not to be read aloud but to oneself alone at night, and it is not quick as poetry but rather a gathering web of insinuations which go further than names however shared can ever go. Prose should be a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears out of the stone . . . 


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