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The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

The Green Man (original 1969; edition 1969)

by Kingsley Amis

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6941520,534 (3.6)70
Title:The Green Man
Authors:Kingsley Amis
Info:London, Cape, 1969.
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (1969)



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When you buy an old Inn, it comes with left luggage. In this case it comes in the form of the ghost of the original owner, a ghost with a past of occultism, a connection with the devil himself, and definite plans about gaining new corporality. the cost of the haunt's plans are the death of the father of our narrator, the Inn's owner, and the unearthing of a relic of the murderous ghost. Our hero has a serious drinking problem, and many of his acquaintance believe that his supernatural visitor is a sign of final delirium. But , the ghost's plans become revealed as continuously homicidal, and our hero Maurice, the narrator, finally takes steps to insure the defeat of evil. Amis' style is light and clever, and I view this as one of his better books. ( )
  DinadansFriend | May 15, 2019 |

“I have no novelists, finding theirs a puny and piffling art, one that, even at its best, can render truthfully no more than a few minor parts of the total world it pretends to take as its field of reference.” So declares Mr. Maurice Allington while scanning the books of his personal library in the study of his rustic country inn, The Green Man.

And what manner of narrator did Kingsley Amis create to tell his novel’s story?

Maurice is a fifty-three-year-old self-centered boozehound, an accomplished womanizer living with his second wife, thirteen-year-old daughter and eighty-year-old father; Maurice also happens to be charming, articulate, Cambridge educated and in possession of both keen intellect and vivid imagination.

Does this sound a lot like Kingsley Amis himself? The British author would undoubtedly answer “yes” since he stated directly he could relate to Maurice Allington more than any of his other characters. Above all else, Maurice has one compelling, suspenseful story to tell – I can assure you by the end of the first chapter you will want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. As not to spoil the book’s many surprises, I will go light on plot and focus on a number of themes:

What is a Kingsley Amis novel without a bit of the old slap and tickle? Actually, Maurice doesn’t go in for anything too kinky but he does suggest to Diana, his gorgeous blonde new lover, that she consider a ménage à trois, that is, going to bed with both himself and his wife. For Maurice, the art of seduction is a very fine art indeed (during one fling with Diana he compares his techniques of arousing a woman to a virtuoso playing a concerto), however he acknowledges he is beyond his stud prime, not to mention the fact he must also deal with a batch of distractions, both natural and supernatural. All told, similar to other dimensions of the novel, Maurice’s sex life is laced with large helpings of vintage Kingsley Amis comedy, mostly of the parody and satire variety.

The Green Man is most certainly a ghost story and literary critic Michael Dirda outlines in his helpful Introduction to this New York Review Books (NYRB ) edition precisely how the author masterfully incorporates traditional ingredients of atmosphere and crescendo to create his chilling tale. Since this is the 1960s modern world, Maurice’s encounter with ghosts raises the skeptical eyebrows of his family and friends as well as the local parson who judges the supernatural as so much humbug. But Maurice knows what he has seen with his own eyes and grits his teeth when everyone immediately provides psychological explanations of how his visions are the consequence of his own mental states brought about by stress, fatigue and drinking. Ah, the modern world, where science and psychology are king.

The Green Man has been part of many world cultures going back to time immemorial, most usually connected with the forces of the natural world in its vegetable forms – trees, plants, leaves, vines, fruits – and is one of the prime symbols of regeneration and rebirth occurring in spring. Accordingly, many of the sculptures of the Green Man depict the nurturing, helpful, positive qualities he symbolizes. Much different than what we encounter in this Kingsley Amis, where the Green Man is the horrifying, destructive agent of diabolical forces. I wouldn’t want to push the point too far, but we might well consider how on another level the Green Man could also represent the alcohol consumption Maurice must do battle to overcome.

With the entrée of a trim, well-groomed young man in his late twenties via the inclusion of an eerie parallel space/time reality, we have a shift from ghost story to tale of the fantastic. Sitting at ease in an armchair in Maurice’s study, the young visitor informs his host that he is not a representative of God, rather, he is God. As he breezily explains the reasons for his taking corporeal form and outlines the scope of his powers, we are given a clearer picture this gentleman isn’t so much the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the Bible as the less-powerful, less-knowing Demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus. Our young man explains a few things to Maurice, one of which is how the universe is best seen as a play, a work of art in progress. In many ways, this brings to mind the Hindu concept of lila, the creative play of the divine. Also, between sips of scotch, he goes on to suggest how all forms of life will not survive eternally. All things, no matter how soul-filled or divine, dissolve and come to an end? With these words we see an affinity with the Buddhist concept of emptiness. A number of other subjects are addressed - certainly one of the most intriguing sections of the novel.

Maurice is obsessed by the inevitability of death. Maurice’s prime philosophical question: Do we survive in some way, spiritual or otherwise, beyond the grave? I suspect this was also among the foremost of Kingsley Amis’s conundrums about our earthly existence. What better way for a literary novelist to dig deeper into the puzzle of life and death than introducing elements usually confined to various genres such as ghost stories, fantastic stories and science fiction? In this way, I found The Green Man to be a deeply probing expansion of how a literary novel can address fundamental metaphysical questions. And let’s not forget Kingsley Amis was a big fan of genre writing such as mystery and science fiction.

Maurice has serious issues in his dealing with the other people in his life, his wife Joyce and his daughter Amy, just to name two. Turns out, toward the end of the novel, Maurice faces life-and-death challenges and unflinchingly take on the role of a hero. Such is the power of love. In this way, his relationship with Amy opens up and we have hints his own life will be transformed. To discover the details, you will have to read for yourself. Highly, highly recommended.

“I thought to myself how much more welcome a faculty the imagination would be if we could tell when it was at work and when not.”
― Kingsley Amis, The Green Man ( )
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
It was pretty much impossible to have any sympathy for the main character in The Green Man by Kingsley Amis as it was established very quickly that he is an alcoholic, a neglectful father, an uncaring and absent-minded husband, a womanizer and, is having an affair with his friend’s wife. As the owner of the ancient inn called The Green Man part of his hosting duties are to impart the rumors of ghostly visitations. But after he himself has an encounter he realizes that the ghosts are not only real but intend malice as well.

This is a man who was already suffering from nocturnal hallucinations and hypochondria so when he declares that he is seeing ghosts his friends and family decide he is experiencing the Dts. Over the course of five days this story unfolds partly with humor over life’s foibles and partly with chills over the supernatural occurrences. The Green Man appears to be a macabre parody of life and death and although I was never quite sure if this was a straight up ghost story or a crazy sex comedy, I did enjoy the ride it took me on. This blend of the occult, religion and sexual innuendo reminded me of many of the books that I read during the 1960s when all of these subjects were being closely examined. The Green Man is a short black comedy that I found quite entertaining. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Oct 25, 2018 |
Really not my thing, but well enough done. No one to like, though the moods were well done and the individuals mostly recognizable. Horror lite, really, though the horror of having to live with ones unlikable self should be more pervasive, it doesn't really seem to be.
Oh, avoid the introduction, it is self important drivel. ( )
  quondame | Oct 18, 2018 |
I am not a lover of horror stories, and this is one of the best horror stories ever written. It's up there with Stephen King's The Shining. ( )
  kerryp | Nov 30, 2017 |
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No sooner has one gone over one's surprise at finding a genuine coaching inn less than 40 miles from London - and 8 from the MI - than one is marveling at the quality of the equally genuine English fare (the occasional disaster apart!).
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Book description
Maurice Allington, dissipated, cultivated, paradoxically engaging, is the modern landlord of a medieval coaching inn, The Green Man. As an old inn should, it has a persistent, long-quiescent ghost: Dr. Thomas Underhill, a 19th-century practitioner of the black arts and a sexual deviant suspected of two hideous murders. Alllington becomes the sole witness to the reappearance of Underhill in the hot summer of 1968 and is driven by a series of unpleasant incidents to bring about a climactic confrontation with the supernatural visitant.
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Novel of terror, suspense, satire, and metaphysical speculation.

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