"The Green Man" by Kingsley Amis. Cover by Brian Frowde.

“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis. Cover by Brian Frowde.

“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis, 1969

Finished October 2, 2012

I started this book several times over the years, and never managed to get very far. I’ve finally gotten through it, and gotta say, I should have left it alone. Amis was a famous writer (as his son is now), and the blurbs describe this book as “devilishly cunning” and “hugely enjoyable,” so I suspect time and geography does not dispose me to it. But without a doubt, the reviewer who called this “superb sexual comedy” must have lived a very sad life.

Maurice Allington owns an inn not far from London. He lives there with his second wife, Joyce, and his teenage daughter, Amy, from his first marriage. His ex-wife had died in a “street accident” a year and a half earlier, and Maurice is unable to make a connection with his child. But that is because he is a selfish drunken snotty jerk. After reading this book and finding the character of Maurice to be entirely unsympathetic, I read up on Amis and learned that he was pretty much exactly like this character: A perpetually drunken adulterer. So perhaps in his own mind Amis was writing an admirable fellow, but I was hoping he’d get eaten by bears and save his friends and acquaintances the agony of his continued existence.

Anyway, the Green Man Inn used to be a home owned by an even more unpleasant fellow, a sort of dark magician by the name of Dr. Thomas Underhill. He spent a lot of time raping young girls, and had plans to survive past death. Maurice starts spotting ghosts on his property, and in between bouts of sleeping with his friend’s wife, having stilted conversations with his family members, and drinking ridiculous amounts, he begins to explore the history of his house.

His research leads Maurice to the conclusion that Underhill had certain items and writings buried with him, and he somehow convinces his mistress to help him dig up the grave. Hang on, this is sounding way more interesting than it was. I need to point out that his interactions with people seem so cold and analytical and lacking in even a speck of empathy or fellow-feeling, or emotion of any kind, that even the sex scenes are a chore to read. Perhaps the constant inebriation numbed the writer to the point that he couldn’t really feel anything. Or maybe he was just a cold and selfish ass.

In the grave Maurice finds what he is looking for and he establishes a more stable connection with Underhill. I’m never clear on why he does this, outside of a passive sort of curiousity. At this point, God shows up. No, really. A young man appears in his study, and we soon realize that it’s God, there to drink some Scotch and give Maurice a bit of advice. God makes mention of how he realized his powers at some point, and sometimes it’s a pain, and there are rules he has to follow. When talking about mistakes he has made due to his lack of foresight, he says, “Well, then I was stuck with those decisions and their results in practice. And I couldn’t go back on them; one thing nobody’s ever credited me with is the power of undoing what I’ve done, of abolishing historical fact and so on.” I found this part slightly interesting. Then God tells Maurice that the Church can help him out of the situation he is about to get himself tangled up in, and vanishes.

When Maurice realizes that all Underhill wants to do (in his corporeal form as a giant monster man made out of branches and leaves) is to kill his daughter, he brings in the Parson to perform an exorcism. Underhill begs to be spared but Maurice ignores him, and the evil old pervert winks out of existence. Joyce leaves him after realizing what an irredeemable ass he is after he involved her in a sort-of threesome with his mistress/her best friend, and he goes back to drinking and thinking about maybe someday being a better person. Although the thought clearly wearies him. He truly is looking forward to death as an escape from the trivialities of life. Ugh.

I can imagine this book would be interesting if written by someone else. There is nothing terribly original about the story. Amis plays around with time distortion and hallucinatory images a bit, but the overall feel of the book is very much like the late 60’s and early 70’s. Drab, full of earth tones, too much booze and cigarettes, and annoying, self-indulgent soul-searching. So freaking dreary, like a cold, damp overcast winter afternoon that just won’t end. And you are stuck wearing wet socks. Not recommended, unless you like that feeling.

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