A Visit from God

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I have always liked reading and pubs, and reading in pubs. By reading I mean sitting alone in a corner of the pub with a pint of bitter and a good book, not the Good Book – that might attract unwelcome attention. There are several conditions to be met. The pub should be quiet, and music-free. It should have few customers, and these also quiet and dotted around the smallish bar at a fairly unsocial equidistance from each other. Any conversation should be infrequent and sotto voce, limited perhaps to the names of racehorses or someone who hasn’t been in lately because he died last week. The best time is after two o’clock, when the lunchtimers have returned to work or afternoon telly. There is at least one such place remaining. It is called The Green Man and is situated in a rural West Midlands village. I am not going to name the village, because the brewery will immediately swoop and render it intolerable. As it is, it still has a public bar, a saloon bar, a snug and a small walled garden. It was in this garden that, fittingly, I first read Kingsley Amis’s novel The Green Man.

This is almost the perfect pub book. It is set in a pub, its protagonist is the publican, it is an effective and exciting thriller, a ghost story, a social satire full of wit, a sombre reflection on the fragility of love and life, and the only novel I know in which God makes a personal appearance.

The ghost story is a difficult thing to bring off in modern times. It seems to require the unnerving silence of a large and almost empty Victorian house, the deep shadows and dim light of candles and lamps, and a time when religious belief is waning but some old superstitions and legends are still remembered. But Amis’s novel was published in 1969 and is set in the Sixties, in an old house turned into a pub called The Green Man, with traffic on the road outside, and television and plenty of company inside. In this place and time, Amis succeeds

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About the contributor

William Palmer has seen ghosts but does not believe in them. His latest book, The Island Rescue, was published in 2007.

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