Kingsley Amis – The Green Man (Panther, 1971)
The Green Man’s Maurice Allington is a worldly publican, but haunted. His pub is inhabited by the spirit of Dr. Thomas Underhill, the seventeenth century scholar rumoured to have killed his wife. The local sexton had refused to dig Underhill’s grave. And the rector had declined to officiate at his funeral.
And there are skeletons in the cupboard of Allington’s own domestic affairs – just rattling to get out.
“The main one was somebody called Dr Thomas Underhill who lived here in the later seventeenth century. He was in holy orders, but he wasn’t the parson of the parish; he was a scholar who for some reason gave up his Cambridge fellowship and bought this place. He’s buried in that little churchyard just up road, but he nearly didn’t get buried at all. He was so wicked that when he died the sexton wouldn’t dig a grave for him, and the local rector refused to officiate at his funeral. They had to get a sexton from Royston, and a clergyman all the way from Peterhouse in Cambridge. Some of the people round about said that Underhill had killed his wife, whom he used to quarrel with a lot, apparently, and he was also supposed to have brought about the death of a farmer he’d had trouble with over some land deal ….. both these people were murdered all right, half torn to pieces, in fact, in the most brutal way …..”
“Tale of supernatural terror meets sex-farce” …… It’s all going so well for Maurice Allington, genial, alcoholic landlord of charming country gastro-Pub The Green Man, Fareham, Hertfordshire. As a distraction from his day to day duties, Maurice is on the verge of cracking it as far as persuading understanding wife Joyce to join he and bit-on-the-side Diana in a three-in-a bed romp. But just lately, Maurice has been seeing ghosts, relatively benign ones to begin with, but these are merely the warm-up acts for powerful seventeenth century Black Sorcery wizard Dr. Thomas Underhill who is soon making a nuisance of himself in Maurice’s affairs. Maurice realises that Underhill has grim designs on the life of his young daughter Amy – perhaps the only person on earth he truly cares for – but what chance has he against a dead man who can – and does – raise that most destructive of nature’s forces, the Green Man itself?
Despite his unashamedly Jamesian approach to his ghost story, Amis crams it with incident and introduces so many spectres that the reader’s attention has little chance of wavering. At one point, time literally stands still for all but Maurice and his latest guest, a nondescript young man who, it transpires, is God, and, to put it bluntly, not somebody you’d wish to invest any faith in.
As to the feted “domestic affairs”: There was much feverish anticipation when the BBC2 ran it’s three-part adaptation as the sub-plot involving Allington’s (Albert Finney) attempts to get wife Linda Marlowe to agree to sharing a bed with he and Sarah Berger came to a head. Maurice eventually gets his wicked wish, but should have realised that, with luck like his, it was always going to go * ahem* tits up …
See Vault Of Evil’s Green Man thread for more