Review of Loving by Henry Green

First read: 8-9/2006
Reviewed on: 9/7/2006
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

Okay, so this year I've been reading The Dance to the Music of Time from the top 100 list. It's a series of 12 novels. I've also been reading other books, so it was looking like Dance was going to be the only top 100 book I read. And that was depressing to me, so I picked up Loving just so you all wouldn't forget about me!

I'd heard this book was like the British show "Upstairs, Downstairs". I would not make that comparison for two reasons. (1) I've never seen "Upstairs, Downstairs." (2) There wasn't a lot of "Upstairs" in this book - mostly "Downstairs" In other words, it is a book about servants in a castle, and why can't we just say that?

(alert: more spoilers than usual will take place in this review)

I've always wanted to see the following television series: It would take place aboard the Starship Enterprise, and take place at the same time as the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. It would be about a group of people who probably saw the bridge once, during orientation, and are not high enough in rank to ever talk to any of the characters of TNG. And all sorts of stuff would happen to them that was not explained. Red alerts would go on and off, affecting their lives, but they wouldn't know why the alerts were happening. The ship would be rocked by explosions sometimes, or sometimes everyone would act drunk for no reason, or see alternate versions of themselves, or watch as BORG walked by, but nobody would ever tell them what was going on.

One of my favorite plays was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (and I liked the movie, although I thought it should have starred Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) because it had that vibe. What are the supporting characters doing when they are not supporting?

So this was a book about servants, and all the politics and farce that goes on. I have to say, various aspects were confusing to me, but in a good way. The main character, Raunce - does he really love Edith? He is such a fraud and an ass at the beginning of the book, I wasn't sure when, or if, we were making the transition to seeing him sincerely. His letters to his mother made a wonderful contrast to our initial impression of him.

While not "laugh out loud funny" many amusing things happened in this book, and the plotting was deceptively intricate. Green even had the cartoon-like device of a character whose accent is so thick it has to be translated by another character.

If I sound neutral about all of this, it is because I am. Like every book I've read in the last year, I am so glad it is not The Ambassadors that it is enjoyable for that alone. But while this book interested me, and I enjoyed the writing, it never really grabbed me.

The ending floored me, and I'm sure actual scholars have written papers on it. It looks, to me, like ol' Raunce is dying. He tells Edith, "let's go away and get married right away" and then it sure looks like we are watching a death scene. And he was getting sicker and sicker throughout the book. (or was he faking?) And then... "Raunce and Edith left the next day, got married, and lived happily ever after." What the hell? Am I supposed to take this on the face of it, or am I supposed to be smart enough to realize that irony was occurring or what?

If you are reading the top 100 along with me, I can tell you not to fear Loving. But if you are looking for a good book to enjoy, I can't say I'd recommend it either. Sorry for the ambivalence.

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