by Henry Green

Loving is a brief novel, here bound in a modern single volume along with a few other Henry Green tales (which coincidentally all use gerunds for their titles). The plot concerns the intertwined & not-so-intertwined lives of British servants & their British masters in an Irish mansion (neutral territory) during WWII. There is a two-dimensional "mystery" as a subplot here as well.

The tale is told so much by the dialogue that at times this book reads more like a play. Green really steps back in his writing & lets the characters, with their distinct voices, forward the narrative conversationally. That being said, I was mostly bored by this book. The reason may be that Green depicts the masters and the servants as equally gray, leaving the reader to hang out on the sidelines with the assignment of eavesdropping on conversations otherwise completely uninteresting. The servants are very real characters, but are frustratingly undereducated & therefore responsible for constant bad decision-making throughout the story. The masters are a bit less realized, certainly shallow by comparison to the former, educated (as they speak better), but nonetheless guilty of an equal number of bad decisions. The reader is left alone on an island.

Finishing this novel has left me with a Voltaire quote playing around in my head again that I first heard years ago. "English people are like English beer. Froth on the top, dregs at the bottom, the middle excellent." In Loving, the problem for me is, there is no middle. (Now that I think of it, there is exactly one character—introduced briefly—who represents the middle as I am imagining it here. That character is depicted none-too-kindly by the author, played for a fool by the servants in his only scene, & then teased mercilessly behind his back in subsequent scenes. See the pattern?)

I am also left baffled by the introduction, which is by John Updike, (who says that Henry Green taught him how to write, interestingly). Updike claims that the ending of Loving is "ambiguous." And here I kid you not: The very last line of this book is—literally"and they lived happily ever after." (I'm sorry. I just can't rank this book that high... based on that alone!) Plus, John Updike may be on drugs.