During my March visit in my family home I heroically finished reading Lord Jim and since I had no other book with me off I went to scan the shelves of our home library. We have plenty of books that have been sitting there for years, due to our unstoppable habit of buying new books. A few years ago, my mum switched to Kindle, so she is buying less physical books, but I think the backlog is already too big to ever handle. And I definitely am not done buying books, so it will surely grow, even if for now in my flat, not the family home.
I found the Green Man and decided to give it a go, having never read anything by Kingsley Amis before. I read the book in Polish translation which may have impacted my reception of it, I’m not sure.
The book told in the first person, tells a story of Maurice Allington, an owner of an inn between London and Cambridge called, predictably, The Green Man. He lives in the inn with his father, his teenage daughter and his new partner. He split with the mother of his child and she died in a car crash sometime before the action starts, but Maurice is still prone to musings about her.
The story goes that his pub has a resident ghost Mr Underhill and Maurice starts seeing a ghost of a woman that he suspects is Underhill’s wife. As he starts investigating the story, he discovers that Underhill was a dark character happily using any means to satisfy his needs and not shying away from deploying dark powers. Maurice tries to tell his family about the ghost, but they think he is hallucinating. The situation is made worse as his father dies one day during dinner. To add to the trouble he also starts an affair with the local doctor’s wife, trying to convince her in the long run to a threesome with his partner.
You probably already gathered that Maurice is not the most charming of people. He is a heavy drinker, chronic hypochondriac and self-centred to a point that no one else seems to really matter to him. He is also obsessed with sex and death and does not have too much reverence for the human race in its entirety. In the climax scene, he is forced to reassess his attitudes, but the change is superficial.
It was an interesting read, Maurice’s sardonic observations are entertaining and as much as he does not spare other people he also rarely is kind to himself. The supernatural element is well woven into the fabric and the tension does build up to the finale. The two flaws for me were that as much as Maurice was a three-dimensional character, all other characters were flat and simplistic, and also the fact that despite his witticisms and irony Maurice really is a sad and quite horrible human being. It is difficult to sympathize with him, even if we agree with his gloomy outlook. For me, this book was an interesting experiment, but I doubt Amis will become my favourite writer.
The Green Man himself caught my attention, and it was interesting to do some reading on the myth. It is surprising how often the depictions of the Green Man show in architecture and yet how little known is the myth. You can read more about it here.