Henry Green

Harvill Press 1991 [1943]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
London in 1940, with air-raids expected at any time... The widowed Richard Roe has joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, leaving his young son Christopher in his country home with his sister-in-law. His station commander Pye, a regular appointed as "sub" because of his experience, turns out to be the man whose mad sister once abducted Christopher. Their relationship is also complicated by class differences — which are just one of the sources of tension in the station.

Written in 1943, when the Blitz was over but the war was still going, and based on firsthand experience (Henry Green — real name Henry Yorke — served in the AFS himself), Caught has an unusual immediacy. It ends with a vivid account of Roe's first night of action, fighting fires on the Docks, told by him to his sister-in-law after he is invalided home. Most of it, however, happens during the long wait before the bombing started, with some foreshadowings of what was to come. Caught conveys something of the changing popular mood, the exigencies of wartime organisation, and the way the war affected relations between people, especially between men and women.

Caught is psychologically penetrating, with some intense individual portraits — of Roe and Pye principally, but also of the ancient Piper, the cook Mrs Howells, and others. Some of this is achieved by direct description of thoughts and motivations, but dialogue also plays a major role, with Green using dialect and slang to convey both social status and individual traits. A brief introduction to this edition mentions that some coarse language and controversial topics were toned down at the publisher's request, but Caught isn't at all what one might expect of a war novel written during wartime.

"Every manjack was full of his little woman and the Edies, the Joans, and the little Marys, in their pinnies, he had left behind, sleeping in their little cots (most likely watching mum in bed with a stranger), in what each man was proud to call home."
The narrative of Caught is also unusual, with a round-about approach employing flashbacks, foreshadowings, and indirect narration (as with Roe's long action account at the end), but the result is never difficult to follow. It is far from polished, even raw in places, but Caught is a fine novel, not just an insightful sketch of London in the Blitz.

December 2002

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%T Caught
%A Green, Henry
%I Harvill Press
%D 1991 [1943]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0002711605
%P 198pp