Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

I heard someone the other day review Magnus Mills as like a cross between Albert Camus and Enid Blyton. I'd have said Kafka and Blyton myself but you get the picture. Maybe he sits in the middle of a triangle.

If unfamiliar I recommend The Trial as a Kafka starting place and The Fall for Camus. Sorry I just set you five hours pre-review homework.

In Mills' stories (his novels are often novella length) everything moves slowly and with restraint. People hold back from saying things too directly, or put it off until tomorrow. Everyone is therefore very 'English'.

In All Quiet on the Orient Express a holidaymaker stays at his destination for a whole season doing odd jobs of greater and greater significance because, having said yes to one, he can't find a way to get out of doing more. No-one wants to appear rude.

The books are often a meditation on a particular subject - work, exploration, transport.

In this latest we are introduced to a field divided into nominal sections - north-east, north-west, south-east, and south-west. Some people live there already, all in tents. Others arrive, always by water. The initial occupants are torn between being welcoming to strangers and suspicious of them. Is that group building a drainage ditch or a defensive wall?

Some visitors are more chaotic, causing damage and being noisy.

It doesn't take long to see the field as a metaphor for England and the events a mirroring of English history, but this is just as much a mediation on how we get on with our neighbours.

Don't expect a plot as such, or for the end to be any sort of finish. But do enjoy one of the most original writers working in English today.

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