Friday, January 27, 2012
Empty Vessels………..Party Going–Henry Green
As the book starts, there is a fog so dense that it coats and hides everything. A bird drops down dead at the feet of an elderly lady- Miss Fellowes, who picks it up as she enters the station. After picking up this bird, she takes it to a public toilet and washes it before wrapping it in brown paper. Welcome to Henry Green’s world of satire, make yourself comfortable because there’s no service out. Party Going tells the tale of a group of wealthy people, hoping to travel by train to some swanky house party, but the fog being no respecter of wealth has descended and shut down all the train services, they take rooms at the adjacent railway hotel & this is where all the action takes place. Although action, may not be the right word, as what we have is a rolling scene of individuals of varying wealth attempting to communicate with each other. Although Communicate may not be the right word, as most of the time is spent in deciphering the meaning from the barbs and sweet talk that passes for small talk. I mentioned on twitter my problems, not with the book which I liked, but with the characters of said book which I didn’t and they were described to me, as “The bright young things” a bit like the top football players of this age. I had a problem with this statement, as footballers may be wealthy now, but most didn’t start out that way, yet these characters have known no other world than the one they inhabit, in which their own position is marked on a scale from who has the most and then in degrees down to where they see themselves, this also marks how they relate to the others about them, with all deferring to Max (Top Dog).
Communication is the activity of conveying information, deriving from the Latin word “Communis” meaning to share, this requires a sender, a message and an intended recipient. Effective communication requires that the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality, and this process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender. Feedback is critical to effective communication between parties. Now although the characters here share “an area of communicative commonality” they are all of a similar social standing, share the same codes of behaviour etc., yet there is something failing, they have the same coding apparatus, but the wrong keys.
Which takes me to my heading, Empty Vessels, this is the old adage “that empty vessels make the most noise” and by this I mean that although a lot is said, these are characters that abhor a silence, nothing is really said, it’s as though you have three or four people occupying a room and shouting into the void, then waiting for the echo. Whilst researching for this post I found this quote, which I found made sense
“Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries except Samuel Beckett, Green exploits the trivia and minutiae of life. His characters react to life in terms of basic needs, the most basic of which is how to relieve boredom or dispel loneliness. The need for conversation, the need to verbalize, is of course attached to one's desire to avoid tedium; and Green's characters frequently talk not for the sake of communicating particular ideas but rather to occupy themselves…”*
This I felt held the key to understanding this book, that these “bright young things” had no aims beyond a need to stave off anything that could hinder sensation, no matter how vague, that they were running between anything that left them alone, with only their selves for company and now finding themselves trapped by a dense fog, could do no more than bleet their helplessness to an otherwise occupied & indifferent individual.
I read this book because of Stu from Winstonsdad, as part of his Henry Green week, I would not have come across it had he not held this writer up above the crowd of names we see every time a new or new to us writer surfaces. So thanks Stu for introducing me to this writer whose book I enjoyed, if not the bright young things within it.
*Frederick R. Karl, "Normality Defined: The Novels of Henry Green," in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel