Nothing, one of Henry Green’s last novels, is an experimental effort to embody his creative theory that the best way to create a sense of life in narrative is by dialogue. In this drawing-room comedy about the generation gap among the so-called Mayfair social set in London following World War II, there is much idle chatter from the characters but very little explanation or probing of motives by the author. The result is a novel of little action, made up of oblique dialogue, somewhat in the Jamesian manner (but without Henry James’s complexity of thought), that provides the reader with only the brittle surfaces of this upper-class social set. As many critics have noted, the four “mature” characters, John Pomfret, Jane Weatherby, Elizabeth Jennings, and Richard Abbot, seem to be essentially the same people on whom Green focused in his early novel Party Going (1939), now grown older, although not very much wiser.
The plot, such as it is, deals with one of the predominant concerns of the Mayfair social set: sexual pairings. John, a forty-five-year-old widower, becomes involved once again with an old lover, Jane. This reunion, primarily engineered by the schemes of Jane, means John’s breakup with his lover, Liz, and Jane’s breakup with her platonic companion, Richard. At the end of the novel, more out of indifference than desire, Richard and Liz become involved after Jane and John become “reinvolved.” In the meantime, John’s...
(The entire section is 565 words.)