Review | The NYRB Book Club March 2017 | Living by Henry Green


One of the bookish subscription boxes I’ll be reviewing this year doesn’t actually involve a box, so I guess it’s just a bookish subscription. I’m talking about the New York Review Books Book Club.

The deal I signed up for included 12 books (one each month, you know) as well as a yearly subscription to The Paris Review (four copies in total). You can read my reviews of the books in my NYRB subscriptions so far and reviews of the Paris Review.

Living Henry Green cover.jpgThis month’s book was Living by Henry Green. As is often the case with this subscription, I must say that I’ve never read anything even a little bit like this. The story follows a series of people who work at a factory in 1920s London. Most stories revolve around the working class folks, but there are also plenty of chapters that follow around the boss folks too.

The stories here are interesting but it’s really the language that shines. Well, first it confuses and then it shines. There are words missing pretty frequently – on purpose – and some weird misspellings that take some time to figure out. Here’s an excerpt as an example:

“Mr. Bert Jones with Mr. Herbert Tomson, who smoked cigarette, walked along street. They did not speak. Then blowing ash from cigarette end he said:

‘I’m going off.’

‘Where to? Down the road?’

‘I’m going off. I’m fed up. In this country it’s nothin’ doin’ all the time. I’m going to Orstrylia.'”

It takes awhile, but eventually it becomes clear that what he means when says he’s going to Orstyrlia is that he’s going to Australia.

Though the language takes some getting used to, once I got used to it I fell in love with it. It required me to slow down and really let these people’s voices sink in and there were just beautiful passages everywhere, like:

“Later her head was leaning on his shoulder again, like hanging clouds against hills every head in this theatre tumbled without hats against another, leaning everywhere.” 

Tumbled without hats against another! What a line!

Reading this book took work and I wasn’t initially sure that it was worth it. I’m so glad I held on though because it ended up being something so enchanting and just lovely.

Rating: 9/10 

Recommended for: Social satirists, folks who like working-class literature, folks not afraid of unique language

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace testNope.

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: Nope, nope, nope, nope. I’d also like to note at this point that this subscription has sent out four books this year and so far all of them have been by men.

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