Thursday, May 04, 2006

Book Break: “The Green Man”/ “Colonel Sun”

Authors: Kingsley Amis 1969, Robert Markham 1968
In “The Green Man,” the great Kinglsey Amis offers up an intoxicating potion of ghost story, social satire, and witty asides on sex, drinking (to excess, of course), God, death and the afterlife (or lack thereof).
Maurice Allington is the wry, overly educated, lecherous and middle-aged proprietor of The Green Man, a chic, medieval inn not far from Cambridge. A widower, Maurice has a teenage daughter and a younger second wife, plus an alluring mistress (his dream is to get wife and mistress in bed together with him). He also has delusions, usually fueled by an incredible intake of whiskey. And then there’s the ghost of Dr. Thomas Underhill, a 17th-century practioner of the black arts and suspected murderer. Delusion or reality? By book’s end, I was convinced that Maurice was seeing the real thing, along with a hideous creature conjured by Underhill, a kind of giant made up of tree parts and dying plants (the Green Man). Oh, yes, there’s also a visit from God in the guise of 28-year-old man with a “humorous, not very trustworthy face.” Their exchange is delicious. "The Green Man” is beautifully written; Amis was a writer who crafted his sentences. He also was funny as hell. An example:
“I sat and tried, not very hard, to watch Friday Playhouse, one of those two-character efforts which nevertheless seem marred by the excessive size of the cast.”
And this while talking to a silly rector named Sonnenschien:
“Yes. Well. There we are. I must go and see the major,” said the man of God, so rapidly and decisively and so immediately before his actual departure that seeing the major (even though there was a retired one actually present) might have been a Sonnenschien family euphemism for excretion.”
A terrific novel. Made for UK TV in 1990 with Albert Finney brilliantly cast as the beleaguered Maurice (who does see his ménage-a-trois fantasy come true, but not with the intended results).
Now we turn to “Colonel Sun,” which I read nearly 40 years ago. This was the first James Bond thriller written after Ian Fleming’s death. Robert Markham was a pseudonym for—you guessed it—Kinglsey Amis, who was a Bond fan and something of a Fleming expert, having written a faux-treatise in 1965 entitled “The James Bond Dossier.” With “Colonel Sun,” Amis created a terrific Bond novel, as good as Fleming at the peak of his powers. Set mostly in Greece, the book has all the trademarks that made the 007 books so popular: violence, torture (involving Bond’s ear—ouch!), sex, intriguing locales, beautiful women, and golf. If you like Bond the way Fleming created him (as opposed to the gadget-driven movies), give “Colonel Sun” a try.


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