Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Greenery Street, by Denis Mackail


Pages: 372
Original date of publication: 1925
My copy: 2009 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone shop, September 2011

Greenery Street is the story of a year in the life of a young married couple. The street of the title is a symbol of a way of life; the first-time houses that young married people have before they begin having families. The couples always vow to stay longer, but when they begin to have children, they move onward and upward in search of larger houses in which to live. The novel is based on Denis Mackail’s experience living as a newlywed in Walpole Street, in a house that had apparently once been occupied by PG Wodehouse and that was later occupied by the author Jan Struther. Mackail himself came from a rather exalted family; he was related to Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin,; his sister was Angela Thirkell (who apparently was quite a bully) and his nephew was Colin MacInnes. Mackail grew up as a nervous child, only finding refuge in marriage; his first year of marriage, fictionalized in this book, was one of the happiest times of his life.

Ian and Felicity are one of the married young couples that move into Greenery Street to begin their life together. They’re not so much characters as they are stereotypes; Felicity is pretty much the perfect housewife (or at least she tries to be), and Ian is the young working husband. It’s a rather dated view of marriage (although keep in mind that the book was published in the 1920s), and a dated way of viewing how houses should be arranged (as the preface says, a 5-story terraced house today seems adequate in which to raise children, but that’s only if you don’t consider the servants a middle-class family had). The novel is written very much like a play, complete with stage directions and dialogue. It’s an interesting way to write, but I thought that, combined with regular prose, this way of writing was confusing and broke up the flow of the story. Mackail frequently switches from the present tense to the past tense, which also distracted from the flow of the story.



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