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The Old Spring, by Richard Francis, Tindal Street Press, RRP£11.99, 281 pages
If pub walls could talk, what stories would they tell? Richard Francis’s 10th novel is a love letter to the great British boozer, a place to plot and dream as well as to drink.
A hole in the pub’s accounts and a visit from the bullying brewery rep are far from the only problems plaguing Dawn and Frank, the landlady and landlord of The Old Spring. While the former faces up to the anniversary of her brother’s death, the latter struggles with a sexual secret.
The book’s cast of irregular regulars includes a pseudo-priest, a seen-it-all, know-it-all college lecturer, and a tattooed man, not to mention the ghost that stalks the cellar beneath.
Francis weaves their stories together in a manner that, like the best pub conversations, seems at once utterly inconsequential and gravely significant. There is a drought of genuinely funny fiction at the moment; The Old Spring joyfully refreshes the parts that other comic novels do not reach.