Henry Green Week – Party Going

Party Going by Henry Green

It’s Henry Green Week hosted by Winston’s Dad.  Before Stu decided to champion this underappreciated British author, who mostly wrote in the second quarter of the 20th C, I’d never heard of him – but he’s quite a discovery…

I bought an edition which collected three of his novels together – Living, Loving and Party Going.  Loving is perhaps his best known but, time being short, I opted for Party Going, the shortest of the three; his third novel which was published in 1939.

If you take the title literally, Party Going tells you all about itself in just two words.  A group of bright young things are getting ready to go to a house party in the south of France. They’re meeting at the station to catch the boat train from London.  However a pea-souper fog has descended and the trains aren’t going anywhere.  So the entire novel takes place around the station and the adjacent hotel where the group retire to.

The group gradually gather, together with their piles of luggage. There’s Robert and Claire, whose Aunt, Miss Fellowes has come to see them off, only to have a funny turn. There’s Miss Crevy – Angela, whose young man Robin has come to see her off, but is jealous that he’s not going.  Evelyn Henderson is guardian of the tickets; Julia, whose uncle is a director of the train line; and Alex a friend of the host who, at the start of the novel is noted by his absence, for Max is busy trying to get rid of his girlfriend Amabel, whom he hasn’t invited.  He’s thinking of throwing her over for Julia.

Soon it becomes clear that no trains will be going anywhere in a hurry, and the station is filling up with people who can’t get home.  In sweeps Max, leaves his man to guard all the luggage and whisks his party off to the hotel where he books three rooms – one for him – and Julia if he’s lucky, one for the ill aunt, and one for the others to see out the wait.

So the scene is set – a nice and claustrophobic situation has been quite naturally  engineered, and the young things sit around, drink, bicker and gossip.  Max can’t stand all this, and manages to take Julia upstairs;  where she’s looking out of the window into the station concourse …

And as she watched she saw this crowd was in some way different. It could not be larger as there was no room, but in one section under her window it seemed to be swaying like branches rock in a light wind and, paying greater attention, she seemed to hear a continuous murmur coming from it. When she noticed heads everywhere turned towards that section just below she flung her window up. Max said: ‘Don’t go and let all that in,’ and she heard them chanting beneath: ‘WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS.’ Also that raw air came in, harsh with fog and from somewhere a smell of cooking, there was a shriek from somewhere in the crowd, it was on a vast scale and not far above her was that vault of glass which was blue now instead of green, now that she was closer to it. She had forgotten what it was like to be outside, what it smelled and felt like, and she had not realised what this crowd was, just seeing it through glass. It went on chanting WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS from that one section which surged to and fro…

Life is about to get more complicated too,  for Max hasn’t counted on the detective-like abilities of Amabel to seek them out.

They are, for the most part, a horrid bunch. Amabel is conniving cow, who batters men into compliance, ordering Alex about like a personal slave. Robert has cleared off to the bar for most of the story.   Claire is concerned about her aunt, but naturally finds her illness detracts from her limelight. Angela – Miss Crevy – Green chops and changes between formal and informal throughout with her name, is the newbie in the group and rather out of her depth.  They are all self-obsessed, bad at listening, and have personal axes to grind.  Max is a typical rich playboy, but doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and who with, but is less judgemental than the others, which is a relief, for the rest are a selfish lot. There’s nothing like a comedy of manners set in a closed situation to stir things up.

There are no formal chapters in this novel, and few breaks in the text – Green also frequently cuts mid-paragraph to different voices all the time, requiring you to be on your toes to know whose PoV you’re in. Green also has a habit of leaving out words like ‘the’, so it can make for a demanding read. He was clearly ahead of his time! In between however, the descriptive passages such as the above excerpt are rather fine.

So thanks Stu, for introducing a fascinating author new to me. One I’ll look forward to reading a lot more of.  (8.5/10)

* * * * *
I bought my book. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Loving, Living, Party Going

10 thoughts on “Henry Green Week – Party Going

  1. mel u says:

    There is something about the odd prose style of Green that I love but I cannot quite explain it-I have read and posted on Loving, Living and Party Going and will soon post on Back-I enjoyed your post a lot and hope to read your thoughts on more of Green’s work-the chapter breaks are also a bit quirky

    • gaskella says:

      Mel, I agree with you about the writing style. It reminded me in parts of several later experimental writers such as Saramago (Blindness) and Raymond Queneau’s Zazie in the Metro which cuts about like a movie. I hope to read more of Green, as this was an intriguing introduction.

  2. Parrish says:

    As I said in my own post the writing of this is wonderful, it’s just a shame the characters weren’t, I described them using the old adage that, empty vessels make the most noise & a lot of noise was made but the only communication was in their own echo.

  3. Harriet says:

    Thanks for the great review. I am totally in love with Henry Green — I’ve read four of his novels now including this one and am posting on Living today as part of HG Week. He is a wonderful writer and I am sure you will love the other two in your collected edition — I think Loving is my favorite so far, but I suspect Living may be jostling for that position now.

    • gaskella says:

      Harriet – I’ll be popping over to see what you think of Living. I’m looking forward to reading more of this interesting author – glad to have discovered him.

  4. winstonsdad says:

    I feel these guys were the premirership footballer of there day crass ,souless and totally self centred he seems to have caught the other side to the characters waugh wrote about in say decline and fall ,all the best stu

  5. Juna says:

    I’m only familiar with Henry Green as an author who John Updike admired. Updike’s characters were often pretty ruthless (as was their author in depicting them) and although some suffer from depression, painful regrets and/or wounded pride, they seem generally inured to the suffering of others. I’ll look forward to giving Green a read.

Leave a Reply