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Back (1981)

Back (1981)
3.7 of 5 Votes: 2
1564785440 (ISBN13: 9781564785442)
dalkey archive press
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Back (1981)
Back (1981)

About book: "Back", is a novel written by Henry Green in 1946. I find it fascinating that after writing nine novels all between the years of 1926 and 1952, he stopped writing at the age of forty-seven. He told an interviewer, "I find it so exhausting now I simply can't do it any more," yet he lived after he stopped writing for over twenty years. He refused even to leave his London house for the last seven years of his life. But now to the story."Back" tells the story of Charley Summers, a young Englishman who comes back from Germany, where he was detained as a POW for three years after having been wounded in combat in France and his leg had to be amputated. While he was prisoner, Rose, the woman he loved, died; also, Rose was married to another man, so Charley cannot even express his grief for fear of scandal. Rose did have a son before she died named Ridley, that both Charley and James believe to be their own. And Rose’s father, Mr. Graves, had another daughter, Nancy, by a different mother. After Charley returns, he visits Rose’s parents; Mr. Graves sends him obliquely to visit Nancy, not mentioning who she is.Charley can't bring himself to talk about what happened in the German prison camp, although almost everyone else in the book asks him about it. There is no mention of Charley’s own parents, or any other family; so we might assume that they are dead. It also seems worth noting that Charley doesn’t pursue a relationship with Ridley, whom he believes to be his son. Charley calls on Rose's father, Mr Grant, who encourages him to make acquantance with the young widow, Rose's half-sister Nancy. When he does, he is astonished at the uncanny resemblance between the woman and Rose. He is told over and over that Nancy is the illegitimate daughter of Mr Grant but he refuses to believe it. He believes Nancy is Rose, only pretending to be someone else. When told by one character that Nancy was married to an RAF pilot killed in action by the name of Phil, he declares that she must be a bigamist. He is horrified that the woman he loved has left her husband and her son, married another man, lives alone without contact with her parents, and refuses to admit to him who she is. The rest of the novel describes the complex and troubled relation between Charley and Nancy, as it unfolds against the background of a war-torn Britain."Back" is a short novel, I read it in one day, and when I closed the book the feeling I had was that I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the characters, all the characters. What was it like for Charley serving in the war? Why did Rose marry James? Whose son is Ridley? I want to know what happened to Charley's parents. I think the story between Mr. and Mrs. Grant and Nancy's mother could have been interesting. What happens to his secretary Dot? And what did Rose die of?I will never know these things because it was a short novel, so I am left wondering. One thing I was amused by was the initials. Early in the novel Charley is having a discussion with James and James says:"As a matter of fact we've begun a pig club in the village. P.B.H.R. it's known by, everything's initials these days."After that I started paying attention to the initials, we had the B.R.N.Q., the V.B.S., the P.M.V.O., the C.E.C., the E.N.Y.S., the H.R.O.N., the A.R.B.S., the E.P.T., the S.E.C.O., and the C.E.G.S., and that's all in the first 50 pages. I was going to look them all up and see if they were real, but I didn't yet. However, I did enjoy the novel and I'm glad I read it.

This is such an exceptional book, beautifully strange and challenging and yet totally accessible at the same time. It seems to be happening as you are reading it because the writing is so simultaneously perfect and yet also natural and ever-changing. There are sentences composed with such grace and originality that I kept having to close the book and look away and let them ripple in my mind like water disturbed by a stone. This book will not be for everyone, but it is sort of like a combination of Kafka and Austen, so if you think that would appeal to you, you must read it! Read it right away!
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My first shot at a Henry Green book. I liked it. It's hard to blame his protagonist for being so clueless; in fact, it's too be expected since he's just back from service in WWII where he lost a leg and was in prison camp. Green takes us right inside his head, but there's so much cotton in there it's hard to really see what's going on. I guess that's the point. Anyway, it's a sensitive portrayal of a traumatized, naive young Britisher. I'm motivated now to go on and try what seems to be his most acclaimed work, Loving. Any comments or advice will be appreciated.
One of those books that reveals itself only once you've finally put it down, but this was well worth the effort I reckon. I'm a fool for this era of British novels and films, and Green captures that sense of dislocation of wartime Britain with a narrative that balances a light touch with an unspoken but always present horror. It felt at times a bit disjointed, but eventually I came to see that as reflecting Charley's own condition; shellshocked, grief-stricken, thrown back into civilian life and unable to confront the past - sounds heavy going, but this only really comes across cumulatively, whilst the writing itself is funny, frothy, melancholy, with wonderfully authentic dialogue and a kind of obsessive regard for words and their many meanings - like the word 'Back' itself, and 'Rose', the name of Charley's dead lover. Might not be to everyone's taste, but it won me over in the end.
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