With pubs closing down every week, there seems to be a tendency either to romanticise them as the heart of the community, complete with chocolate box village green and original oak beams, or go for the spit and sawdust variety with its oddball "characters" and no-nonsense ways. In fact, the reality tends to lie somewhere in between, and this is reflected in this book.
The Old Spring stands in a street in a small town and has an open fireplace and a well-polished bar, but that's about as upmarket as it gets. The author takes us into the viewpoints of several of the locals. Each, of course, has their own story. Darren the cleaner, awkward and lacking in confidence, is convinced there's a ghost in the cellar. Father Thomas, mistakenly assumed to be a priest, tries to find a sense of belonging amid mixed reactions to his faith, which is itself going through a crisis. Jake, covered in tattoos and mistrusted by Dawn, has more pressing matters to deal with as he drinks separately in the snug.
Other characters play their part, too, but the constant anchors are Frank and Dawn, the landlord and landlady, as they struggle to keep both their business and relationship afloat, while each trying to cope with their own hidden demons. To make matters worse, a discrepancy in their accounts, chased up by a brewery rep guaranteed to make your skin crawl, lurks constantly in the background and could sink them if it isn't resolved.
I enjoyed this book. Everyone's stories are told with varying combinations of warmth, humour and pathos, but without straying into sentimentality or farce. I found myself rooting for some characters while having mixed feelings for or even despising others. There were a couple of points where I felt it could have done with one of two less, but the story keeps moving forward to a fitting end with the sense that life - at least for some - goes on.