Summary (from Persephone):
PG Wodehouse described this novel as 'so good that it makes one feel that it's the only possible way of writing a book, to take an ordinary couple and just tell the reader all about them.' Greenery Street can be read on two levels - it is a touching description of a young couple's first year together in London, but it is also a homage - something rare in fiction - to happy married life.
Ian and Felicity Foster are shown as they arrive at 23 Greenery Street, an undisguised and still unchanged Walpole Street in Chelsea. Their uneventful but always interesting everyday life is the main subject of a novel that evokes the charmingly contented and timeless while managing to be both funny and profound about human relations.
This novel is a delightful account of the first year of a newlywed couple, Ian and Felicity, living together for the first time. It has been said that this is a rare gem in literature, since there aren't many stories out there about happy married couples. I guess their lives aren't exactly full of action and emotion, or not enough to pen rivers of novels about them. However, Denis Mackail turned this notion on its head with Greenery Street, and wrote a funny and endearing story based on his own years as a newly married man living on Walpole Street.
The voice of the narrator helps with the pace of the story - part third-person omniscient, part stage director, it adds to the charm of story, treating the characters with the right amount of tenderness and irony. But the narrator never makes fun of the characters - only of the situations. A great example of the care with which the characters are treated (and one of the most hilarious vignettes at the same time) is the conversation that takes place between Ian and Humphrey (Felicity's father), when Ian is supposed to ask permission to marry Felicity. The awkwardness of both men makes them skirt round the important matter, and they end up discussing college rowing teams instead of marriage.
I really enjoyed the happy couple dynamics, but I also enjoyed the contrast offered by Bruce and Daphne, Felicity's sister. Their marriage is not as happy as that of Ian and Felicity, and they have grown distant with time. While they never get the sole focus, the greatest conflict of the story stems from their unhappiness. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't say much about it, but it really sheds light on the views on marriage of the early twentieth century.
Greenery Street is as much of a character as the people who populate it. A fictional version of Walpole Street, it shared many things with the latter: young couples got their first house there, but abandoned it as soon as they had their first child, since the five-story houses couldn't accommodate the couple, the children and the servants. Denis Mackail described it as always having pantechnicon vans full of family furniture cared for by the newlyweds, young women with perambulators giving instructions to the pantechnicon men, and young couples talking to builders and estate agents. Nowadays, some aspects of the novel seem dated. Who would deem a five-story house too small? And what kind of middle-class young married couple could afford a cook and a housemaid? Despite that, Greenery Street feels decidedly modern on the whole. After all, some things never change, and couples still have to adjust to a shared life with everything that it entails: getting used to "odd" habits, defining personal space, paying off debts and whatnots.
The humour in this novel hit close to home, and I appreciated Greenery Street even more because of that. I definitely plan on reading more by Mackail. The good news? Some of his novels can be found (for free!) on the Internet Archive.
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