24 December 2019

Party Going by Henry Green

Henry Green was raised in privileged surroundings during the early years of the twentieth century.  Attending both Eton and Oxford he became friends with Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, Bryan Guiness and others from the world of hyphenated last names and titles.  Green (whose last name was actually Yorke) was a recognized member of the Bright Young Things.  A reasonably sophisticated Brat Pack of 1920s London, if you will.  So when he sat down in 1931 to write a story featuring a group of friends taking a trip to the South of France, you just know it will be telling.

Mr Robert Wray, a director of the train line, calls the station master to ask if he'll look out for his niece Julia and her friends as a thick fog inches near.  Miss Fellowes, who only means to wave off her niece Claire, has found a still-warm dead pigeon.  For reasons only known to herself, she washes it carefully in the station's restroom and wraps it in brown paper.  Angela Crevy arrives with her boyfriend Robin, who finds this new circle of friends she's attached herself to, revolting.  Robin is trying his best to keep a lid on his feelings but wonders how Angela could leave him for three weeks, just when they're on the verge of getting engaged.

Meanwhile, Max Adey has been cruelly trying to detach himself from his girlfriend Amabel, by giving her the run around.  He's doesn't come across as very likable and yet he's just the sort of man some women want to be around and some men admire.

   'Max was dark and excessively handsome, one of those rich young men who when still younger had been taken up by an older woman, richer than himself.  Money always goes to money, the poor always marry someone poorer than themselves but it is only the rich who rule worlds such as we describe and no small part of Max's attraction lay in his having started so well with someone even richer than himself.'

Amabel is no shrinking violet but the toxic relationship she has with Max has shattered her nerves.  She tells Max the doctor thinks some time away from London and the fog would do her the world of good.  To complicate things further, Julia is on her way to Victoria Station to join the group....and everyone thinks Max and Julia are destined to be together.

The fog thickens....

   'While these others walked all in one direction, the traffic was motionless for long and then longer periods.  Fog was down to ground level outside London, no cars could penetrate there so that if you had been seven thousand feet up and could have seen through you would have been amused at blocked main roads in solid lines and, on the pavements within two miles of this station, crawling worms on either side'.  

 Suddenly, Miss Fellowes takes a turn, worrying everyone in the group to varying degrees.  Some think she's been drinking, including the doctor.  Carried off to a room to recover, the others start moving about the station in ones and twos which creates chaos about who has the tickets and worry about missing the train.  This is very much a novel that wouldn't exist in today's world of cellphones and text messaging.

Waiting out the fog has created such crowds that it's decided to lower the gates around the station.  Mr Wray advises his niece and her friends to take rooms at the station hotel so they will be more comfortable.  In a scene that leaves no doubt as to the level of entitlement that exists in this group, Amabel instructs her maid to find her luggage, dig out the bath salts, and run her a bath.  Max and Julia lean out of the window to watch the crowds below and are glad they're not among them.

Over the course of several hours, the 'frenemies' watch each other, create drama, and speculate.  We never really know what any of them is truly feeling about the situation they find themselves in as much is conveyed through dialogue with others.  

I've picked this book up a couple of times over the past few years but didn't get past the first few pages.  A case of right book, wrong time I suppose because it was the perfect book at this time of year when everyone is rushing about somewhere. 

Henry Green's novels have yet to make me feel the need to clutch them to my chest when I finish, but they always stay with me for a very long time.  In fact, they're unforgettable.  I finished Party Going a couple of days ago and would happily start it all over again today.  But there's too much to do!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Victoria Station (1927) 

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