Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although Nothing depicts what might be called a dying culture, the focus is not on social values as such; rather, Green seems more interested in presenting a novel that is almost pure style. In its nonrepresentational objectivism, particularly in its use of a montage technique, the book has been compared with the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet, for, like Robbe-Grillet’s fiction, it suggests that there is no ulterior reality lying beneath the surface. As a result, a reader may very well finish this novel and find that it is “much ado about nothing.” Although that may be precisely Green’s point, such a point requires something besides empty dialogue to hold the reader’s attention. Even to name one’s novel Nothing runs the risk of the reader’s snide remark that the title is the one “true” thing about the book. Pattern is everything in Nothing, as the three sets of sexual pairs get systematically jostled about until they settle down finally in a quite predictable and artificial way. In fact, artifice and artificiality are probably the key words in this novel, which Green intends to be an aesthetic tour de force.

Critics are divided about the success of the dialogue technique on which the novel depends. Whereas many critics believe that Green’s previous novel, Concluding (1948), is a masterpiece, Nothing is widely regarded as a failed experiment. The affairs of John and Jane, Liz and Richard, and Mary and Philip simply do not seem important enough to generate any human interest, and Green does not give the reader anything more than those affairs. Although one can admire Green’s facility with dialogue in this novel, one does not really care very much what these characters say.