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January 8, 2010

I was super-psyched to read Henry Green’s Loving. Having loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day, I was ready for another book exposing what really goes on in the servants’ quarters of manorial England. All of the basic plot elements for a great story were there: naughty children, rich widows, cranky housemaids, adultery, embezzlement, blackmail, and backstabbing, all crammed into 200 pages. Unfortunately, Green never found a way to weave these great elements together in a cohesive and interesting way.

On the positive side…. no one ever got more accomplished around the house than I did this week, instead of staying on track and reading this book. Catbox? Unbelievably clean. Basement? Completely reorganized. 1000-piece Twilight puzzle with 90% black pieces? I was on it! My husband is campaigning to have me read nothing but Loving for the remainder of my life.

Ok, so back to the book. The first 100 or so pages were unreadable. Couldn’t get into it at all. I actually had to start the book over three times before I could catch on to what was happening. Here’s an attempt to sum up the plot, just for the sake of being thorough: a manor house in Ireland during WWII is the setting of Loving, where a rich old widow lives with her daughter-in-law while her son is off fighting in the war. That’s about all we learn about the ‘masters’. The rest of the time is spent on a rather motley and clueless collection of ‘servants’, most of whom don’t seem to work very hard and elicited no emotions from me other than irritation.

If Green wants readers to feel the boredom, isolation and paranoia his characters experienced by living in a huge castle out in the middle of nowhere during a war, he succeeded with me. I almost wished the castle was in London so the Blitz could happen, just to give the characters something of substance to do and worry about. I also wondered if Green wanted to show us that servants have very superficial, boring lives and that nothing of consequence ever happens to them. Because that was another take-home message for me. 99.9% of this story revolved around “nice cups of tea”, idle chitter-chatter, and people freaking out about lost gardening gloves for like fifteen pages.

I’ve read other books on the Modern Library’s list, like Tobacco Road, for instance, that didn’t have huge and involved plots but somehow managed to be 200 times more captivating than this book was. I was extremely disappointed in the ending. Green just sort of lopped it off like a dead branch, and it doesn’t go with the rest of the story at all. Maybe he got tired of the story himself and just decided to end it. I can’t say I blame him. This book was beginning to have an Under the Net stream of consciousness feel to it, like it would never end, so I am glad he figured something out.

The bottom line on this one? If you’re really into the servant/master thing, check out The Remains of the Day. I promise you won’t be sorry. But if you really need motivation to get some household chores done, pick up Loving. Your husband will thank you.

Grade: D

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