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by Henry Green, introduction by Adam Thirlwell

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Living is a book about life in a factory town and the operations of a factory, from the workers on the floor to the boss in his office. The town is Birmingham and the factory is an iron foundry, like the one that Henry Green worked in for some time in the 1920s after dropping out of Oxford, and the stories—courtships, layoffs, getting dinner on the table, going to the pub, death—are all the ordinary stuff of life. The style, however, is pure Henry Green, at once starkly constrained and wildly streaked with the expedients and eccentricities of everyday speech—cliché and innuendo, clashing metaphors, slips of tongue—which is to say it is like nothing else. Epic and antic, Living is a book of exact observation and deep tenderness, the work, in Rosamond Lehmann’s words, of an “amorous and austere voluptuary” whose work continues to transform the novel.

by Henry Green, introduction by Adam Thirlwell

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681370682
Pages: 240
Publication Date:


Living was published in 1929 when Green was only twenty-four. It is of his books the most redolent of ambition. Its canvas is wide, its cast large, its design intricate, its tone epic and celebrative...In this novel his mature style is invented and employed with a vengeance...His attempt is the customary avant-garde one, to ‘make it new,’ in Pound’s phrase, to redeem ­language from the unfelt smoothness of usage.
—John Updike

Green’s emphasis on surface, on texture, repre­sents a new moment in the history of the novel.
—from the introduction by Adam Thirlwell

Living is a book about how people really live: their hopes, but also their compromises and defeats.
—Jeremy Treglown

The best novel of working-class factory life we have.
—Walter Allen

Living introduced a whole school of proletarian literature, and yet remains apart from, and superior to, any of its followers.
The Times Literary Supplement

Living, without underplaying the grimness of their lives...celebrates the clashes between the workers and their manager.... Living often has a surprising force, giving the characters a simple, massive dignity. The density of the novel is formidable. It achieves an epic tone without epic proportions.
—Christopher Porterfield, Harper’s Magazine

[Green] seemed to have redrawn the familiar triangle between reader, writer and character, so that you somehow had the impression that you knew his characters better than he himself did.... The inner shape of the novel...imitates our experience of living: it promises pattern, then withholds it, insisting on a formless banality; it describes intensity, but as part of a grudgingly accepted monotony; it glimpses poetry, but only from the corner of its eye.
—Sebastian Faulks, The Guardian

The best proletarian novel ever written.
—Christopher Isherwood

Green was a novelist of such rarity, such marvelous originality, intuition, sensuality, and finish, that every fragment of his work is precious.
—John Updike

Living...dealt with workingmen, and it evokes the stark life of the workers with a strenuous, pared-down prose in which all definite articles are omitted.... Living contains some passages of extraordinary beauty.
—Brooke Allen, The Guardian

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