green design

Henry Green is not as famous as he should be, I think. Several renowned writers—including George Saunders and John Updike—have lavished incredible praise upon him, and rightly so.

On a New York Times podcast, Ezra Klein asks George Saunders which book or writer inspires him, and Saunders starts talking about Henry Green:

“I don’t know anybody who writes more beautiful sentences in English, just more sculpted, and deliberate, and purposeful. So it’s almost like just drinking a little bit of a potion to make you love language again, just because he’s taken so much care with it.”

Meanwhile, John Updike, in the introduction to my collection of three Green novels, writes:

“His novels . . . give that impression, of an irreducible density and a self-possessed rhythm, that belongs to reality and its most ardent imitations in art.”

That statement is a little hard to parse, but I believe Updike is saying that Green’s writing has heft (is not flimsy) and flows well, just like real life and the best artworks out there.

Having read all three of the novels in my collection, I can affirm that they are fully worthy of these accolades. To read a Henry Green novel is to become immersed in stark realities while becoming aware of the incredible beauty of life within those stark realities.

Henry Green was an English novelist who wrote between the years of 1926 and 1952. As I made my way through Loving, Living, and Party Going, the three novels included in my collection, I started in perplexity and ended in immersive awe. My favorite of these was Party Going, but honestly I am not sure whether that is because this is the last novel I read (and thus I was the most accustomed to Green’s style by then and in the best place to enjoy it), or because it was truly my favorite.

For Henry Green takes a while to get into. When first beginning to read, the reader is utterly lost. This may be why his novels are not more widely read; perhaps people give up before everything clicks into place. But everything does, indeed, click into place. It just takes a few pages. And when this happens, it is glorious.

Sometimes that is how great writing works. If it comes too easily at the get-go, a novel can disintegrate into banality. A novel that takes time to sink in is more apt to have the complexity required to provoke in the reader that illusive but important sense of awe.

Also: the more I understood the novels, the more I realized how comedic they are. It’s always nice to get a joke that might have passed over another person’s head. . . .

In future posts I will offer specific examples of Henry Green’s power. For now, I will ask you this: How do you feel about reading novels that are confusing at first?