Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Caught is the third of Green’s nine novels, succeeding Living (1929), which narrates conflicts in a Birmingham factory, and Party Going (1939), covering a few hours in the lives of wealthy Londoners waiting to leave for the south of France. Whereas the latter book deals exclusively with gossipy, shallow, selfish, frequently alcoholic idlers, Caught is a far more serious, complex, comprehensive achievement. It intricately interweaves the Jacobean plot of Albert Pye’s disastrous stumbles with Richard Roe’s checkered progress from morose individualism to a measure of integration, from emotional paralysis to a minor liberation from his former emptiness and connection with a panoramic community.

Green’s evocation of mood and tone through sparse dialogue and unerringly precise description is akin to James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914). His subtly modulated control of recurrent motifs parallels Marcel Proust’s and Thomas Mann’s work, though in a relatively minor key. His command of montage to dislocate expected chronological order looks back to Joseph Conrad and sideways to John Dos Passos and Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Caught is by far the most complex and perhaps the best of Green’s novels, particularly in its insistence that the inner lives of his important characters remain prominent in the reader’s attention despite the perilous setting of World War II. While many Green characters destroy themselves through greed, lust, and fear, he does champion, in Caught, the traditional, homely values of interdependence, social solidarity, and commitment to the family. This is a nontragic, non-Promethean vision, but Green has the talent to convince the reader of its soundness.