Speaking of nothing, Henry Green wrote a novel titled “Nothing” (1950). “Nothing” shares some of the characteristics of the early radio and television soap operas. It’s nearly all dialog; one can’t see the narrator, but the storyteller sees the reader. “Nothing” is about the nothing that is the something at the center of human activity. One forgets the narrator is watching one’s every move. From dialog only the characters are drawn, succinctly and diversely, such is the clarity of their voices – that they talk mostly of nothing is nothing. It only matters what one says. By nothing is not meant something insignificant; on the contrary – it is only through the direct encounter of nothing, where the characters are stripped of all their lies and workarounds, diversions and investments, that the essence of true life is revealed.
Yet it’s 1948, and these “Nothing” characters don’t seem as affected by the recent war as Barbara Pym’s characters in similar settings. “Nothing’s” John, knowing his daughter Mary “was to be out of London the next forty-eight hours on some trip in connection with her Government job” (133) – but we find out little to nothing about that job or what the connection is. The war of course was an unpleasant affair, its results mostly visible in the everyday details of work-a-day life: the difficulty of finding a suitable flat or flatmate, parsing wardrobes, the reopening of restaurants as places of interest, the local church the center of social, cultural, familial life (think jumble sales, lectures, and clubs of all sorts), and the shortage of marriageable men or men with the proper attitude toward marriage. Thus stripped of diversion and meaningful advertisement these folks on the edge of nothing seem a peculiar precursor to our time when commercialism and popular culture, and the adulation of the famous for being famous and nothing more, seem to reckon yet another coming.