Roundup: Mostly Books

The Times has an article describing a re-reading of Henry Green’s peculiar 1939 novel Party Going. This is by Claire Alltree and opens with this:

I think of Henry Green’s 1939 novel every time I walk across Victoria station, which is where I like to imagine Party Going is set. Crippling fog, the prewar equivalent of leaves on the line, has stopped all trains from departing a London station, leaving the concourse swelling with thousands of commuters desperate to get home. Tucked away in the station hotel is a group of very rich bright young things, the story’s main focus, who are trying to make their way to a party in the south of France. As they anxiously wait, and wait, Green’s dryly satirical fever dream of a book feels a bit like James Joyce mixed up with Evelyn Waugh, except that Party Going is also so distinct unto itself there simply isn’t another novel like it.

No one reads Henry Green any more. An Eton-educated wealthy industrialist, he wrote several uneasy, stylistically radical novels between 1926 and 1952, of which Party Going is one of the most peculiar and the best. It’s also not particularly easy to read, although it’s only when you are about a third through that you realise almost nothing is happening. A strange miasma seems to infect the writing, blurring distinctions between location and often even the members of the party — you sometimes think you are reading about Julia, or Claire, only to realise that Angela is speaking instead.

Alltree does not say what edition of the book she read. In the US, the book is available from NYRB Classics along with several other of his works. Here’s a link.  That also appears to be the edition being sold as new in the UK. She goes on to describe the book’s strange plot (applying that term loosely).

Waugh had praised Green’s early novel Living (1929); indeed, he praised it twice. First, in Vogue (4 Sep 1929): “the most vital and dynamic book that has appeared since the war” and about a year later in The Graphic (14 June 1940): “a neglected masterpiece.” But after this initial flirtation with the avant garde, Waugh went silent in the press, and in private proclaimed Green’s later work to be evidence of his madness. He and Green (whose real name was Henry Yorke), knew each other from Oxford and remained on friendly terms, still exchanging letters after the war. They fell out after some incident that occurred on a 1951 visit by Green and his wife to the Waughs. Green, his work and relationship with Waugh are mentioned in several previous posts.

–A Bangladeshi paper The Daily Star carries a story profiling the life and work of novelist and travel writer V S Naipaul. This is by Farhad B Idris. Waugh was an early admirer:

Naipaul’s unique command of the English prose is a fact acknowledged by his friends and foes alike. Following the publication of The Middle Passage, Evelyn Waugh noted its brilliance and observed that Naipaul’s “exquisite mastery of the English language  should … put to shame his British contemporaries.” Waugh did not live long enough to read Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival (1987), a much more complex work that combines travel narrative, fiction, and autobiography in an exquisite blend. It is no surprise that the Nobel committee mentioned this work in particular and praised Naipaul’s mastery of his materials in its award citation. Though subtitled “A Novel,” The Enigma is largely autobiographical and recounts, among other topics, Naipaul’s early difficulties as an émigré determined to be a writer in England following the footsteps of no precursor.

Slightly Foxed has announced their reprinting of a book that might be of interest. This is James Lees-Milne’s memoir of his early life Another Self. Here’s the announcement:

James Lees-Milne wrote that he ‘always felt an outsider in every circle’. It was this, combined with his eye for detail and highly developed sense of the ridiculous, that made him such a wonderful comic writer. John Betjeman compared the impact of Another Self to that of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.

James Lees-Milne, writer and architectural historian, is probably best remembered for his mischievously perceptive diaries, which chronicled the doings of upper-class English society from the Second World War onwards in twelve addictive volumes. Another Self, his fanciful, funny, yet poignant account of his early years, has the same gripping quality.

We’re delighted to announce that this classic memoir will be available to readers once more, published on 1 June in a Plain Foxed Edition. These sturdy little books, bound in duck-egg blue cloth, come in the same neat pocket format as the original Slightly Foxed Editions.

In the US, the book is available in a Kindle edition from Amazon.

–The magazine Current Affairs has published a dialogue between its editor and an architect about the career of architect Christopher Alexander who recently died at the age of 85. He is described as a “champion of vernacular structures.” Here is one item of interest from the dialogue which also extends to many other subjects:

Peter Eisenman, who I mentioned earlier, has a marvelous quote, something like my job is not to think about what people want, it’s to think about what they would want if they knew what they should want. He once designed a house that was so bizarre, very geometrically innovative but totally inconvenient. The clients could barely inhabit it successfully. (“Eisenman grudgingly permitted a handful of compromises, such as a bathroom.”) This is actually parodied in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, which features a modernist architect who resists including a staircase in a house on aesthetic grounds. (The architect, a clear parody of Le Corbusier, says that “the problem of all art [is] the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form. The only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines, not men. … I suppose there ought to be a staircase. … Why can’t the creatures stay in one place?”)

–Culture news website posts an article by novelist Natalie Jenner in which she considers what she calls “unhappy happing endings.” One example is a Waugh novel:

Take Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and its fairly somber ending (which is also its beginning, given the present-day framework around the plot). To the outside world, narrator Charles Ryder is middle-aged, divorced, and alone, except for comrades in war and his rediscovered faith. But what he really is, is someone who finally sees the truth around him, unobscured by repressed envy. Charles doesn’t get much at the end of the novel, but what he doesn’t do is lose any further. He has reached a new, higher level of emotional understanding and grace, and every time I close the pages to Waugh’s classic novel, I feel the very same.

Jenner’s works include the novels The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls.


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