MIdwinter is the time for ghost stories, and I was pleased to see that this year the BBC revived its practice of producing a spooky Christmas drama, though this year opting for Henry rather than M R James with an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. Sadly, I've not yet had a chance to view it as it clashed with yet another showing of that splendidly creepy film, The Wicker Man. Even though I possess both the original version and the so-called Director's Cut on DVD, I never pass up an opportunity to see it again. (I should perhaps point out for younger readers that this is the original 1973 film with Edward Woodward not the quite remarkably dire Nicolas Cage remake. I still can't understand why anyone would want to remake the original film while apparently having no understanding of its unique qualities.)
My real ghostly treat this year, though, was re-reading Kingsley Amis's wonderful short novel, The Green Man. Since his death in 1995, Amis's reputation seems to have faded slightly, and there's a danger that he may be remembered for little more than Lucky Jim. Wonderful as that first novel was, there's plenty more in Amis's oeuvre that's equally worth of attention, and The Green Man is a splendid example, not just of Amis's unique genius, but also of his craft. It's a beautifully constructed tale of an alcoholic innkeeper and restaurateur, Maurice Allingham, and his encounter with the troublesome spirit of a prior inhabitent of the inn that gives the book its title (and which itself takes its own name from some apparently older inhabitent of the woodlands around...). Amis was a great admirer of M R James, and the book brilliantly translates James's methods into a modern setting. Like James, Amis is adept at balancing humour with terror, and the novel applies typically Amis comedy as a counterpoint to some genuinely unnerving scenes. Above all, unlike many ghost stories, The Green Man is filled with utterly convincing, three-dimensional characters. Allingham's alcoholism, for example, is not simply a plot device - though it usefully positions him as the most unreliable of narrators - but is also fully explored and realised. Amis even manages to contrive an encounter between Allingham and God, which somehow succeeds in being both moving and disturbing, rather than risible.
If you feel like seeing out the old year with a chill to match the weather outside, I'd recommend settling down with The Green Man. In any case, best wishes to everyone for the coming year and thanks to all those who've supported my various endeavours over the last twelve months.