Friday, January 27, 2012

Empty Vessels………..Party Going–Henry Green




As the book starts, there is a fog so dense that it coats and hides everything. A bird drops down dead at the feet of an elderly lady- Miss Fellowes, who picks it up as she enters the station. After picking up this bird, she takes it to a public toilet and washes it before wrapping it in brown paper. Welcome to Henry Green’s world of satire, make yourself comfortable because there’s no service out. Party Going tells the tale of a group of wealthy people, hoping to travel by train to some swanky house party, but the fog being no respecter of wealth has descended and shut down all the train services, they take rooms at the adjacent railway hotel & this is where all the action takes place. Although action, may not be the right word, as what we have is a rolling scene of individuals of varying wealth attempting to communicate with each other. Although Communicate may not be the right word, as most of the time is spent in deciphering the meaning from the barbs and sweet talk that passes for small talk. I mentioned on twitter my problems, not with the book which I liked, but with the characters of said book which I didn’t and they were described to me, as “The bright young things” a bit like the top football players of this age. I had a problem with this statement, as footballers may be wealthy now, but most didn’t start out that way, yet these characters have known no other world than the one they inhabit, in which their own position is marked on a scale from who has the most and then in degrees down to where they see themselves, this also marks how they relate to the others about them, with all deferring to Max (Top Dog). Henry G PG


Communication is the activity of conveying information, deriving from the Latin word “Communis” meaning to share, this requires a sender, a message and an intended recipient.  Effective communication requires that the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality, and this process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender. Feedback is critical to effective communication between parties. Now although the characters here share “an area of communicative commonality” they are all of a similar social standing, share the same codes of behaviour etc., yet there is something failing, they have the same coding apparatus, but the wrong keys.


Which takes me to my heading, Empty Vessels, this is the old adage “that empty vessels make the most noise” and by this I mean that although a lot is said, these are characters that abhor a silence, nothing is really said, it’s as though you have three or four people occupying a room and shouting into the void, then waiting for the echo. Whilst researching for this post I found this quote, which I found made sense


“Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries except Samuel Beckett, Green exploits the trivia and minutiae of life. His characters react to life in terms of basic needs, the most basic of which is how to relieve boredom or dispel loneliness. The need for conversation, the need to verbalize, is of course attached to one's desire to avoid tedium; and Green's characters frequently talk not for the sake of communicating particular ideas but rather to occupy themselves…”*


This I felt held the key to understanding this book, that these “bright young things” had no aims beyond a need to stave off anything that could hinder sensation, no matter how vague, that they were running between anything that left them alone, with only their selves for company and now finding themselves trapped by a dense fog, could do no more than bleet their helplessness to an otherwise occupied & indifferent individual.
I read this book because of Stu from Winstonsdad, as part of his Henry Green week, I would not have come across it had he not held this writer up above the crowd of names we see every time a new or new to us writer surfaces. So thanks Stu for introducing me to this writer whose book I enjoyed, if not the bright young things within it.

*Frederick R. Karl, "Normality Defined: The Novels of Henry Green," in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel

Henry Green(Wiki)
Henry Green Interviewed by Terry Southern

12 comments:

Shelleyrae said...

I haven't heard of this title or author, the characters sound quite tiresome really.

Thanks for sharing your review for the Eclectic Reader Challenge

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Caroline said...

The whoe story around the aunt captures the essence of this book so well. She is so very ill but all the others think of her is that she is a nuisance, and spoils their fun. I think it takes a masterful writer to make a story with such dull people fascinating and that it was for me. Plus, unfortunately, the world is full of such empty vessels, rich and poor ones alike.

mel u said...

There is something I cannot quite describe about the prose style of Green that I just love-I have read Living, Loving and Party Going (sold in on volume by Penguin and a very good deed on their part)and loved them all-I just read Back and will post on it soon-it is set during WWII and is about a man who was repatriated to the UK from a German prison camp in exchange for a German soldier held by the British and his adjustment to WWII life in England-really brilliant and a work of great intelligence-I think Green is a neglected writer and I am glad to see he is getting a bit of attention now from book bloggers-great review by the way

Annabel (gaskella) said...

This one was my choice too - post just up. I really enjoyed it - but agree there wasn't a single character I'd have wanted to get to know (although I'm sure Max would have had a certain allure, akin to a certain rich Mr Darcy maybe).

gina said...

Sounds right up my alley!

stujallen said...

They are wonderfully flawed people I think this with the dialgoue that sets green apart it is hard to write characters with flaws and that readers don't have empathy with ,all the best stu

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Shelleyrae, although you wouldn't want to personally know them, following their pitiful meanderings via green's prose was good.

Hi Caroline, I think their attitude to their poor relative encapsulated by the term "bothersome" summed up the vapidity of most of their dealings with others whether of their own species or others.

Hi Mel, yes the prose is what saves the book and makes the writer worth the effort.

Hi Annabel, If my memory serves me right Mr Darcy knew what he wanted & was quite forthright, Max was a differing buffoon. Thanks for hosting

He Gina, yes definitely worth a go.

Hi Stu Yes he was fantastic at writing his characters, although not sure flawed quite covers it.

Sarah (Rat in the Book Pile) said...

This sounds quite different to Caught, which was the Green I read and which features at least one sympathetic character. Mine was an easier read from the sound of it.

I was aware that Green was contemporary with Evelyn Waugh, and quite glad that Caught had nothing whatsoever in common with Waugh, but it sounds like perhaps Party Going does.

Fay said...

Thanks for the Beckett quote. Good one.

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Hello Parrish, I have not read this Henry Green book, so I shall as soon as I can. I am delighted to see so much interest in Green and I very much like your thoughts on his work. Thank you for this post.
Also apologies for not publishing a recent comment from you on a poetry post on my blog. I found it in Spam. I don't know what went wrong there.

Col (Col Reads) said...

Sometimes this kind of book is just the thing -- getting into the mindset of someone who is terrified to spend any time in their own head can be very thought-provoking indeed. :) The dead bird is somewhat off-putting, but I assume it makes sense as the book progresses. Or maybe not.

Thanks, as usual, for a review of a novel I probably wouldn't have found on my own!

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Sarah, It wasn't so much that it was hard, but that the characters were so inane & self centred that you saw no reason to empathise with them. Also to the Waugh/ Beckett thing definitely read more Estragon than Sebastian into it.

Hi Fay, thanks for the comment, Just thought it made sense of the book.

HI Órfhlaith, thanks for the comment, no problem for the comment thing.

Hi Col, not sure if these characters are bright enough for that level of introspection, it's more a case of avoiding the silence, as to the bird motif , it's short & could possibly resonate with the idea of the albatross & travel, for more on that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albatross_(metaphor)