- July 1st 2010
- 320 pages
- B-Format Hardback
A wonderfully boozy evocation and celebration of pub life, full of all the sorts of characters you dread meeting in a public bar, but are glad you did
— Gerard Woodward
This is a small classic – a slim book of deep but intimate ambition, a record of the beauty and strangeness of small lives on a small island
— Maggie Gee, Guardian
Dawn and Frank wake up one wet morning in the flat above their pub, the Old Spring. Today they have to meet the brewery representative, creepy Tim Green, and track down an error in their books – or face the consequences. Dawn has something else on her mind too: the anniversary of an old tragedy for which she has always felt responsible.
Frank has a problem of his own – a secret that has ended his sex life with Dawn. Darren the cleaner meanwhile is haunted by the ghost of a long-dead landlord. The pub’s ‘chaplain’, Father Thomas, tries to rediscover his faith under the sceptical scrutiny of his tormentor, Alan. And in the local hospital, pub regular Romesh drifts towards death on his magic carpet, while back in the snug, the tattooed man faces up to a life and death crisis of his own.
The Old Spring abounds with sadness, banter and exuberant storytelling, showing all the communal spirit and camaraderie of the pub at its best.
Praise for Richard Francis:
Zadie Smith and Richard Francis have a lot in common. Both write loose, character-driven comedies, whose plots float along freely like brightly coloured balloons, tethered to telling, poetic detail
— Alfred Hickling, Guardian
The novel I genuinely liked best was Taking Apart the Poco Poco by Richard Francis, a family story told in turn in strict equality by two parents, two children and the dog
— Adam Mars-Jones, Booker judge 1995, in Observer
The Old Spring is the sort of pub that remains doggedly traditional in spite of the rise of theme pubs, wine bars and other temporarily fashionable outlets that come and go around it. Its regulars like familiarity and routine, a bit of light banter with the landlord, real ale, landlady Dawn’s cheese rolls, its’ blazing fire. This is a place people come to for comfort and reassurance, as well as for escape. During the course of a rainy day the regulars each deal with their own little dramas and interior struggles, with the pub as a constant backdrop. Their worries are familiar, but Dawn and Frank and their extended family of customers are no soap opera stereotypes. Their private dilemmas ring true, as Frank struggles with his guilty secret and Dawn worries about the hole in the pub’s accounts. “The Old Spring” is as much a celebration of a type of understated quirky Englishness as it is an ode to the comforts of a traditional British pub. The book is full of the sort of deadpan comedy and irreverent observations inherent in pub dialogue. The characters ponder everything from the existence of poltergeists to the origin of hamburgers. They mask their worries by focusing on trivialities, a very English trait. The pub itself is lovingly described and everyone reading it will probably picture the action set in their favourite local. The layout and features of the pub, such as the fire and the cellar, play a role in the unfolding events, so that The Old Spring is itself like a character in the story. Finally, if nothing else, this book will almost definitely make you fancy a pint.
Annette — 20th May 2010