Henry Green, “Party Going”

Oh, Henry Green! Such a trickster! Since Party Going is the third short novel included in the volume I received last month, I was not actually expecting party coverage in the style of M. Proust. Oh, no. But I was a little bit startled that the tale began with a dead pigeon. Yes, dear reader, here are the opening lines:

Fog was so dense, bird that had been disturbed went flat into a balustrade and slowly fell, dead, at her feet.

There it lay and Miss Fellowes looked up to where that pall of fog was twenty foot above and out of which it had fallen, turning over once. She bent down and took a wing then entered a tunnel in front of her, and this had DEPARTURES lit up over it, carrying her dead pigeon.

Trains to the Continent leave from Victoria Station, as they did in the 1930s.

And if you think you are going to find out why Miss Fellowes gets so attached to that pigeon, let me set you straight. She does take it into the ladies’ room at the train station and wash it in the sink, observed by two retired nannies whom she knows slightly. Then she has it packaged in paper and twine and keeps it with her until …. OK. I don’t know where Miss Fellowes loses her pigeon. All is confusion.

But you see, that’s the story. All is confusion. Fog has entered a vast train station, so thick that trains are no longer departing. A group of rich and fashionable Young People assembles there for a trip to the South of France (the “party” of the title). They are all the guests of Mr. Max Adey, a young man so wealthy, so handsome, and so free of personality that he could easily turn up on the cover of a current issue of Vanity Fair. As the station becomes ever more crowded, the “party” retreats to the station hotel where they look down from their windows to “the people” below — depersonalized, of course, and somewhat menacing. Green descends from time to time into the crowd to visit with the servants who stand watch over the luggage, and to expose the network of dependence, resentment, and respect that connects these two classes.

Action? No, not really. Amabel takes a bath. Julia flirts with Max. Claire is unpleasant to her husband. They all chew over an inconsequential piece of gossip about a man known as “Embassy Richard.” Green manages to recreate the disorienting feeling of such travel glitches (think O’Hare Airport in a snowstorm) while commenting on the ever-fascinating class issues. Yes, the traditions of linear narrative fiction do fall by the wayside and yes, this does make Party Going a faintly tedious read. Yet of the three novellas in this volume, it may turn out to be the most memorable.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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3 Responses to Henry Green, “Party Going”

  1. Chelsea says:

    I think that this book (and this post) raises some interesting notions about why we read books – plot or character. Did the whole pigeon-picking up thing make up for the tedium of the plot? My guess is most likely, meaning I can’t wait to pick this one up (or, I guess I should more accurately say one of the three novelas). Thanks for the great review!

  2. carolwallace says:

    Oh, thank you, Chelsea! You make a good point about the plot/character question and perhaps one weakness of “Party Going” that I didn’t quite bring out is that the characters aren’t all that well differentiated. In this one, it’s the situation that’s the star — and possibly the lead character. Oh, gosh: just remembered the fog in “Bleak House,” the way Dickens makes it a character, too…. hmmm. Green cannot have been ignorant of that.

    And sometimes what you take a way from a book is one image — have you read J.G. Farrell’s “Troubles?” There’s an indelible incident in there that Farrell spends the whole novel setting up and once it’s in your head, it’s there forever.

    Like the pigeon.

  3. Pingback: Follow my book blog, “Book Group of One” | | Carol Wallace BooksCarol Wallace Books

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