Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail

28. Greenery Street
by Denis Mackail
fiction, 1925
paperback, 372 pages
finished, 5/19/09

In these days of beautiful book covers, often with nostalgic old photos or evocative scenes, the Persephone books really stand out. I rather appreciate a book that doesn't try and influence me by the cover. A Persephone book lets the writer's words tell the story and I love that.

Another thing I simply adore about this publisher is the little extras. I have already mentioned the endpapers. The ones for Greenery Street are

taken from a 1925 design for a block printed cretonne by George H. Willis for
the Silver Studio
MoDA, Middlesex University

The preface to Greenery Street is just packed with tidbits about the author's life. Many of the biographical details may be familiar. His mother was the daughter of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the pre-Raphelite painter, and Georgina Macdonald, one of the famous 'circle of sisters.' He and his wife were friends with the A.A. Milnes, and with E.H. Shepard who illustrated the Pooh books and the cover of Greenery Street (included as a postcard). His sister was Angela Thirkell. However, it may come as a surprise that Denis Mackail and P.G. Wodehouse were friends. And that Mr. Wodehouse 'believed that Mackail wrote with an ease that he himself lacked, and respected his style and wit.' High praise from the man I believe is the master of writing! We also learn that much of Greenery Street is autobiographical, and there are two sequels which I hope Persephone will also bring back into print.

To quote a wise woman (my daughter!), 'dark and depressing doesn't mean artistic.' Sometimes warm, cheerful, and/or funny pieces of literature are looked upon as lightweight. Many people feel this is why P.G. Wodehouse doesn't get his due for the genius he is. Well, not this reader. I like a happy story, and this one certainly is.

Greenery Street is a metaphor for the first year of marriage. We are told right at the start that young couples move to this lovely London street (based on the author's own home on Walpole Street) after they get married, thinking it will be their forever home. But once the children come along, those perfect rooms begin to feel cramped and crowded, and the family moves on. It is quite shocking to a reader in 2009 to hear that a five-story house was too small for a family with two children, but 'of course' there had to be room for the servants!

The young couple are Ian and Felicity Foster. We follow them as they meet, become engaged, and then move into their first home as young marrieds. Some of the facts of their lives are the same as what a couple face even now - managing money, coping with neighbors, learning to live with another person. There is such a sweetness in the details of their new life together, their love of one another, and their joint love of their new home. Not everything is perfect, of course, but it is interesting to see how they handle various concerns.

P.G. Wodehouse wrote to the author as he began reading Greenery Street:

It's 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. It's the sort of book one wishes would go on forever.

And honestly, I cannot say anything further or more eloquently than this. Buy it or borrow it, but please do read it. Your heart will be lightened and your spirits lifted as you move through the pages of this wonderful, wonderful book. You may read another review here. If anyone else has written about it, please let me know, and I'll add the link to your post.


  1. Oh, this is on my wish list because Wodehouse thought so highly of it. And can I say an amen about books that are happy and full of 'sweetness and light'? I have also begun to feel this way regarding books about childhood and parents. I am more inclined now to choose books that honor one's parents and/or tell a story of childhood years filled with love, security and happiness. Wonderful review and I will definitely be reading this one.

  2. Nan, I love Persephone books, and their covers. Penguin had the same idea years ago- use a good, strong and plain cover. Of course- they look good on the bookshelves as well...
    PS. Your garden looks as if it'll be very productive this year.

  3. It sounds like the perfect book for me. Thank you. :)

  4. Thanks for the reminder about Persephone books. I knew someone else who raved about them and i was going to check them out.

  5. This is already on my wish list (it may have been Danielle's review that put it there), but now I'm even more anxious to read it. There is something special about those Persephone editions! Thanks for the review, Nan.

  6. I can't wait to get this book, Nan. I've been looking for a good book to kick off summer, and it sounds like this is the one!

  7. Book Psmith, I know! I am tired, so tired, of tales of horrific childhoods. Maybe the writing is cathartic for the writer, but I think it might have been kept in a diary. And it concerns me that so many YA books are filled with such subject matter as well. Yes, it may help other suffering kids, but I'm not sure it is great for others. But, to each his own, I guess. I'm just grateful I don't have to read this stuff, and have the images in my head forever. Thanks so much for writing.

    Rattling On, if I go to the Penguin site, will I find the books you are talking about. I've always loved the old P. books but I'm not sure I know about these.

    Colleen, I would be so very interested to hear your take on it, since you are closer to the age of the characters.

    Cait, I've already got a list together for next year when I start buying books again!

    JoAnn, and Alison, I hope you'll come back and tell me if you like it.

  8. Another one to add to my list. I agree with your comment about people not recognising the genius of Wodehouse because he was 'too light-hearted'. What a shame that so many books which were enertaining and amusing never got their author the recognition he deserved.

  9. Scriptor S. I think your wife will like it too. There's such a sweetness about this young couple just starting off in life together.
    I've actually heard people say that W. is second only to Shakespeare. :<)

  10. Oh, I cannot wait to read this. I admire your daughter's wisdom at such a young age. It took me years and years to realize that exploring the darkness doesn't necessarily give us a way beyond it. Sometimes we need to be bask in the light and find ways to create more.

    Is it raining in your corner of New England? It's endless here in Maine.

  11. June, we were 'promised' lots of rain this week, but haven't had much at all. Sunny here today.

    I really, really like what you wrote. Thank you so very much. I agree completely. There are so many gloomy books and movies out there.

  12. Every time I visit you, you have a lovely new header more gorgeous than the last. Thanks for the advice about Greenery Street; I value your opinion. And, isn't Persephone wonderful? I wish I could go there in person.

  13. I loved this book too, though sadly I don't have the elegant Persephone edition with the lovely endpapers.

  14. I just ordered three books from Persephone last month and this happened to be one of the three. I love their books and wish I could pop over to London to really visit the bookshop. One day...sigh...when I am feeling well again. Do you order from them directly or through another book seller?

    Hugs ~

  15. Dolce Bellezza, I'd love to visit!

    Geranium Cat, what edition do you have? Is it an old, used book? I'd love to see the original with the Shepard cover.

    Heidi, I have ordered only once. I bought three books directly from the Persephone site. Greenery Street is 'our' kind of book!

  16. Nan, that flower in your top picture is gorgeous! What kind is it?

  17. Susan, thank you - more info here:


  18. Dear Nan,
    First of all:
    I MISS YOU! Hope all is well. We have just been spoiled with all your interesting posts but trust that you are just busy enjoying your gardens and this lovely weather.
    Speaking of books, I brought home Revolutionary Road on your recommendation and my daughter can't put it down. She thinks the author is flawless and has a brilliant writing skill. She now wants to read more of his books. She refused to watch the movie until she had read the book, so that will be the next step.
    Thanks for all of your recommendations!

  19. I positively lust after the endpapers in Persephone books! I wish more publishers would take so much care with details.

  20. Joanne, you are so dear. Thank you. Just busy, busy. I have 3 books to 'report' on! I hope to write more soon. I haven't visited other blogs very much either. I'll be so interested to see what your daughter thinks - reading the book, and then seeing the movie.

    Bluestalking, I so agree!

  21. What a wonderful review. I am so glad you loved this book, as I did. It's just the loveliest story and it really does warm the heart. Having it all wrapped in beautiful Persephone endpapers makes it even more delightful. :)

    It would make me so happy if Persephone reprinted the two sequels, as they are very hard to come by and prohibitively expensive!

  22. Rachel, thanks for coming back to read this. I wonder if anyone has written to P. and asked if they might reprint them? I wonder, too, if they have any idea how very many bloggers love, love, love their books?!


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.