Henry Green Is As Good As His Word by Michael Gorra
This article has been published by The Paris Review. It begins:
Evelyn Waugh could push a joke to the outer edge of our ability to bear it, stopping just when laughter turns to tears, and he’s had his imitators for the better part of a century now. So has Graham Greene, who blanched despair into a weary disillusionment; the contemporary thriller is inconceivable without him. Each of them added to the novelist’s grab bag of tricks. Their contemporary Henry Green didn’t quite manage that. In such early novels as Living (1929) and Party Going (1939) he experimented with dropping out the definite articles in a way that gave his language a tense angularity, the nouns and prepositions grating on each other, uncushioned: “Water dripped from tap on wall into basin and into water there. Sun. Water drops made rings in clear coloured water.” Nobody followed him and he left no codifiable body of technique. But Green may have had something better—not followers but admirers, and admirers among all writers. Very little connects such disparate figures as Eudora Welty, John Ashbery, and John Updike, or indeed those who have introduced Green’s other books in this series: little beyond their fondness for this strange elusive figure, not a model but an inspiration. Welty probably put it best. His work was ever changing and yet always the same, his books “to an unusual degree unlike one another … yet there could be no mistaking the hand … [with its] power to feel both what can and what never can be said.” Green’s peers recognized his originality; that’s achievement enough.