Greenery Street is based directly on the author's own experience of married life -- to such an extent that apparently Mrs Mackail was fairly embarrassed by it. (I should note that I am taking all my information on this side of the book from the Persephone preface by Rebecca Cohen.) Thus, it is not hard at all to identify the real-life 23 Greenery Street as 23 Walpole Street in Chelsea. Would you like to see pictures? Of course you would.
But some things haven't changed.
A picture began to form itself in Felicity's mind of two rows of symmetrical doorsteps, of first floor French windows which opened on to diminutive balconies, of a sunny little street with scarlet omnibuses roaring past one end and a vista of trees seen facing the other.
|Chelsea Hospital toward one end|
|I didn't realize I actually got a bus in this photo until I got home - go me!|
As a single person (a Single-American?), I thought the novel was cute but I could sense how it might have deeper resonance for married people. It might make a nice anniversary gift for a close friend, but I don't want to commit to that. I don't know anything about picking wedding/anniversary gifts, except for the words of wisdom from my father which I will treasure forever: "Think carefully before you give people knives because you don't want to be complicit in any stabbings."
I suppose what makes it special is that it's a fairly emotional novel about how great marriage is, by a man. If Greenery Street had been written by a woman, it would be entertaining but not much more than that. I don't feel like I'm giving it much of a pass on this count though. Where I am giving it a pass is in that it's so directly autobiographical. The preface makes a pretty irresistible case for the novel being an almost 1:1 account of its author's feelings, if not experiences. Usually I'm a little disappointed to discover that an author has based the events and/or characters of a novel on their own life. I won't lie; when I read that Barbara Pym had worked among anthropologists it took some of the shine off her choice of anthropologist characters in Excellent Women. I freely admit that this is irrational, and I do my best to discount it when weighing up my final analysis of a book, but it's my first reaction. Except with Mackail. Somehow reading about how deeply important his marriage was for him made me all the more interested in "Ian Foster".
Overall: well worth it, and not just because it was wanting this book that led me to find the Persephone store in the first place.