SUMMARY ä The Dig By John Preston


  • Paperback
  • 259
  • The Dig By John Preston
  • John Preston
  • en
  • 24 July 2017
  • 9781590517802

10 thoughts on “The Dig By John Preston

  1. says:

    This beautifully composed short novel by John Preston may be most notable for its simplicity and understatement In restrained tones that recall JL Carr’s A Month in the Country we are treated to Edith Pretty aged and wealthy owner of Sutton Hoo estate who determines to discover if there is anything inside the earthwork mounds that dot her riverside Suffolk property It is 1939 and the threat of a German invasion is everywhere discussedPreston’s fiction would be wonderful even if it didn’t describe a real event the discovery in 1939 of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for a king long turned to sand containing jewels and helmets coins and gold trinkets silver bowls and implements When it was discovered the find redefined Britain’s Dark Ages for what it showed of human capability and development


  2. says:

    I found this to be a very disappointing fictional treatment of an exciting archaeological event the discovery of the Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk UK in 1939 The book has received good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and I want to emphasize that my rating is based solely on my personal reaction to this book The story seems to focus on the drudgery of the actual physical labour and the annoying bickering among the various archaeologists and museum officials The atmosphere with the exception of a few brilliant descriptions of natural surroundings is glum The characters are preoccupied with the various challenges of their personal lives rather than awestruck over the wonder hidden in the dirt The artefacts are described perfunctorily and then whisked away to a secure location in London The likelihood of the outbreak of war hangs like a shroud over the entire dig site Where is the excitement that ought to surround such a discovery? Is this the reality of the nitty gritty work of archaeology? Was this really the way it unfolded? Maybe so Perhaps I missed the author's point On another personal note added to my feeling of disappointment with this book is a growing dislike for historical fiction I believe that authors walk a fine line when attempting to weave a fictional story around main characters who were real people In the case of this particular book the author did state in the Author's Note that This novel is based on events that took place at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in the summer of 1939 Certain changes have been made for dramatic effectI am grateful for this bit of information Nonetheless it leaves the reader who likes to know the historical facts still in the dark I am left wondering which details are factual and in an effort to sift the real from the imaginary elements in the story I am drawn away from the story to fact based resources in which case I might just as well read a history book If the book had not been so short I would have abandoned it at the halfway point


  3. says:

    I actually picked up a tattered paperback copy of The Dig several years ago after seeing it referenced online in a discussion about books that do a good job of portraying an archaeological dig It wasn't until I was offered an ARC of the new edition however that I finally made time for John Preston and his literary treasure huntTo be honest if I didn't feel obligated to give it a review I likely would have discarded this to the DNF pile There was some interesting history behind it and an impressive amount of detail in some of the excavations but the narrative itself was painfully dry and the characters tediously English I mean there is some very cool stuff going on here and some really exciting things being revealed from the mysterious mounds but there is absolutely no emotion to the book Everyone in it takes such pains to be prim and proper and Preston himself seems compelled to similarly reign in his enthusiasmI'm sure there are literary merits that I'm glossing over and I'm sure cultural aficionados could pick apart the words and the sentences to reveal a whole other layer but as adventures go as archaeological discoveries go The Dig was just a wholly underwhelming read Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins Disclaimer I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review


  4. says:

    Not So Dark AgesSerious fiction these days is often so complex and allusive that it is a real pleasure to read a novel that tells a story absolutely straight with plenty of human interest yet without slighting the considerable intellectual value of the subject The Dig is an account of the 1939 excavations at Sutton Hoo Suffolk on the east coast of England The intricacy of the artifacts from the largest of these a ship burial datable to the late sixth century completely altered the prevailing view of the so called Dark Ages as a period devoid of cultureI knew about the excavation before reading the book and have seen the artifacts in the British Museum I found though that my memory had been affected by reading Angus Wilson's Anglo Saxon Attitudes which starts with a scandal at a parallel excavation obviously based on Sutton Hoo But author John Preston has no need of nefarious plots to make his story exciting; the book reads like a thriller as it is First there is the sheer interest of the painstaking work involved looking less for solid objects than minute changes in color or texture of the soil Then there is the excitement of the first finds And then as the news gets out the struggle for control between the local people who first began the work and the sometimes overbearing national authorities All taking place under the threat of impending war on the very coastline that for two millennia has been a landing ground for continental invadersPreston's genius is to make you forget it is a true story and give you the surprise of pure fiction Yet if you look up Sutton Hoo on Wikipedia you will see that everything of significance in the novel is true; Preston does not make up names or alter facts At the same time he shows exactly why fiction can be effective than non fiction in telling such a story—because he puts you there seeing through the eyes of people who are as involved with their emotions as with their hands Preston has the good fortune of being able to rely on narrators who are closely involved in the dig but are in some sense amateurs There is Edith Pretty the owner of Sutton Hoo House whose interest in the other world stems from her grief at her husband's death There is Basil Brown a self taught archaeologist recommended by the local museum as someone who knows about Suffolk soil than anyone else alive And there is Peggy Piggott a graduate student married to her professor and brought along during their rather strange honeymoon because she is light enough not to disturb the fragile site For all three of these but especially Peggy Preston invents an enigmatic emotional life that enriches their stories without ever contradicting the facts But he also has the sense to leave loose ends poignantly untied so that the made up stories do not overwhelm the real one It is a uietly amazing featThis is a simple unpretentious book yet it is as satisfying to read as many a longer tome with grander goals It may not make my Great Books of the Year but it is certainly one of the ones I have enjoyed the most


  5. says:

    It is 1939 in East Anglia and Britain is on edge knowing that war is imminent But at Sutton Hoo another type of excitement is taking place An ancient Anglo Saxon burial ground is in the process of being uncovered on the grounds of the widow Edith Pretty The archaeological team must work uickly before war strikesThis is a modest book without lots of bells and whistles and it is inspired by true events In an area characterized by “bloody mindedness and general dislike of authority” a discovery by Basil Brown a self taught local archaeologist spirals out of his control and into the hands of the professionals of the British Museum As the ramifications of the find begin to escalate we see a town stiffening its collective backs against outsiders and the politics of rivalryBut the implications of this book go beyond that John Preston writes “It seemed an especially cruel sort of joke that we should be unearthing the remains of one civilization just as our own appeared to be on the brink of annihilation” The endurance of humankind and the futility of our efforts to pose and posture underlie the action and call to mind Shelly’s famous Ozymandias poem “Look on my Works ye Mighty and despair”The author also integrates the buried feelings of his characters with the ancient burial site Basil Brown Edith Pretty and Peggy Piggott – the three key narrators – all harbor stifled feelings caused by lack of recognition lack of love or lack of opportunities The dig illuminates their own lacking All in all the book is surprisingly gentle and its meaning is enduring That’s uite an accomplishment for a mere 260 pages


  6. says:

    This got rave reviews when it was published a couple of years ago from readers as diverse as Ian McEwan engrossing exuisitely original Robert Harris enthrallingoriginal and Nigella Lawson who was so absorbed she skipped lunchI don't really understand all the hype It was a pleasant enough short read; Preston writes beautifully but at the end I did wonder what the point was The novel is so understated as to be almost inaudible; all that is clear is that he's drawing parallels between the digging up of the frail remains of things and the excavation of his characters' repressed thoughts and feelings It's rather reminiscent of On Chesil Beach in that sense although McEwan was excruciatingly forensic in his description of the young couple on their wedding night Here small isolated incidents are reported but just as you feel something is going to happen Preston moves on to something else In the end you know as much about the characters as you would if you had dug up their material remains in 600 years which is of course part of the point of the bookFootnote I hadn't realised till I read other reviews that Peggy Pigott was Preston's Aunt and it was this almost chance discovery that spurred him to visit Sutton Hoo and write the book This too gives some insight into how much of our own and our family's past can be hidden from us


  7. says:

    In 1939 Edith Perry contacted the Ipswich Museum about some mounds she wanted excavated on her property in East Anglia The museum recommended an amateur archeologist Basil Brown Mr Brown went on to uncover one of the most significant sites of medieval history in England What ensured was a battle between Museums and property owns for the priceless objects foundJohn Preston has offered us a fictionalized account of this dig Using four different narrator's Preston covers the period of April through September 1939 The use of these narrator's was very successful in accounting what happened which I believe Preston wanted to do without bogging down the story with a lot of character detail This does leave the story a little unsettled I for one am grateful to have the book since it does give us a sense of history This review was originally posted on The Pfaeffle Journal


  8. says:

    A fairly pleasant short fictional account of the summer of 1939 when the Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered It contains as much fact as fiction slightly dull in places but interesting nevertheless as its fairly local to me There were bits of the story that didn't seem to go anywhere so not sure why they were included It has inspired me to read my factual books about Sutton Hoo again though


  9. says:

    This interesting little novel is set in 1939 and centres on the excavation of the Anglo Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk I picked it up because of the Suffolk connection and rapidly became engrossed The archaeological discoveries give the book its narrative drive almost like a mystery drama and Preston conjures effectively the tension of a nation on the brink of war The book develops poignantly themes of evanescence and transience the everpresence of death and the dead and the mark or lack of that we leave upon history and the landscape It is also beautifully and economically written What stood out for me however and I fear this is going to turn into a review for writers than readers was Preston’s knack of conjuring on a first meeting and in very few words the absolute essence of his characters – both those described and those doing the describing His linking of small details of physical appearance to underlying personality is admirably deftTake for example the self taught archaeologist Basil Brown encountered here for the first time by Mrs Pretty the owner of Sutton Hoo House“Everything about him was brown – dark brown His skin was mahogany coloured So were his clothes a cotton tie a tweed jacket with the top button unfastened and what appeared to be a cardigan beneath He was like a kipper in human form It seemed absurd that his name should be Brown too”Here we are told what Brown wore And even though I may often be dismissive of clothing related descriptions here it is crucial because Mrs Pretty is judging his social class by that cardigan that undone top button The mahogany skin is from a life out of doors digging and also shows him to be not uite of Mrs Pretty’s social class – he’s tanned like the agricultural labourers on her estate And there’s humour there – the kipper the irony of his name – showing us Mrs Pretty’s dry sardonic take on the worldOr how about this? Mrs Pretty again describing for us on is first appearance in the book a man she already knows well Mr Reid Moir the local museum curator“Mr Reid Moir was a tailor before he became a palaeontologist As a result he is always immaculately turned out Today he was wearing a dove grey suit with a matching tie Although he is a tall well built man he is very light and fluent on his feet There is a suppleness about his body that goes with his air of lacuered sensuality”Mrs Pretty’s eye for clothes again and what they tell her but also a hint of her snobbishness and of her suspicion of a man who is possibly too well groomed And although we get those normally mundane facts of height and build here they tell us something vivid something beyond the merely visual an unctuous fluidity we are warned not uite to trust Just one example another archaeologist an academic this time by the name of Phillips being presented for our view by Peggy Piggott the young wife of one of his colleagues“He was a much larger man than I had expected However he carried his bulk if not proudly then with a considerable air of entitlement By contrast his bow tie was rather small making him look like an inexpertly wrapped parcel”His size this time tells us both of Phillips’s physical confidence and of Peggy’s timidity with men And again there’s the flash of humour – Peggy’s as well as the author’sDamned good eh? I only wish I could write like this


  10. says:

    I loved this novel for how it makes archaeology lyrical poetic and personal I think it's Peggy Piggott who says something like here we are attempting to unearth another civilization when ours is on the brink of collapse the Sutton Hoo dig takes place in 1939 This and other connections between the Anglo Saxon ship burial and the private lives of the people involved in the excavation is what makes it so good For example Edith Pretty still mourns the death of her husband so digging for a burial has obvious resonances for her For Peggy it's like digging for something within herself that which makes her uniue and separate from her husband and her not very happy marriage And for Basil the true archaeologist of the book the excavation is a failed way to attain dignity and respect and recognition The artifacts themselves as well as the process of excavation are beautifully rendered in Preston's prose but it's what they mean to the characters that's really at stake in this novel The ghostly image of the vanished ship's imprint in the sand stays with you and keeps meaning something different the you consider it


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The Dig By John  Preston

John Preston À 1 SUMMARY

D amateurs and love and rivalry flourished in eual measure As the war looms ever closer engraved gold peeks through the soil and each character searches for answers in the buried treasure Their threads of love loss and aspiration weave a common awareness of the past as something that can never truly be left behind This interesting little novel is set in 1939 and centres on the excavation of the Anglo Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk I picked it up because of the Suffolk connection and rapidly became engrossed The archaeological discoveries give the book its narrative drive almost like a mystery drama and Preston conjures effectively the tension of a nation on the brink of war The book develops poignantly themes of evanescence and transience the everpresence of death and the dead and the mark or lack of that we leave upon history and the landscape It is also beautifully and economically written What stood out for me however and I fear this is going to turn into a review for writers than readers was Preston’s knack of conjuring on a first meeting and in very few words the absolute essence of his characters – both those described and those doing the describing His linking of small details of physical appearance to underlying personality is admirably deftTake for example the self taught archaeologist Basil Brown encountered here for the first time by Mrs Pretty the owner of Sutton Hoo House“Everything about him was brown – dark brown His skin was mahogany coloured So were his clothes a cotton tie a tweed jacket with the top button unfastened and what appeared to be a cardigan beneath He was like a kipper in human form It seemed absurd that his name should be Brown too”Here we are told what Brown wore And even though I may often be dismissive of clothing related descriptions here it is crucial because Mrs Pretty is judging his social class by that cardigan that undone top button The mahogany skin is from a life out of doors digging and also shows him to be not uite of Mrs Pretty’s social class – he’s tanned like the agricultural labourers on her estate And there’s humour there – the kipper the irony of his name – showing us Mrs Pretty’s dry sardonic take on the worldOr how about this? Mrs Pretty again describing for us on is first appearance in the book a man she already knows well Mr Reid Moir the local museum curator“Mr Reid Moir was a tailor before he became a palaeontologist As a result he is always immaculately turned out Today he was wearing a dove grey suit with a matching tie Although he is a tall well built man he is very light and fluent on his feet There is a suppleness about his body that goes with his air of lacuered sensuality”Mrs Pretty’s eye for clothes again and what they tell her but also a hint of her snobbishness and of her suspicion of a man who is possibly too well groomed And although we get those normally mundane facts of height and build here they tell us something vivid something beyond the merely visual an unctuous fluidity we are warned not uite to trust Just one example another archaeologist an academic this time by the name of Phillips being presented for our view by Peggy Piggott the young wife of one of his colleagues“He was a much larger man than I had expected However he carried his bulk if not proudly then with a considerable air of entitlement By contrast his bow tie was rather small making him look like an inexpertly wrapped parcel”His size this time tells us both of Phillips’s physical confidence and of Peggy’s timidity with men And again there’s the flash of humour – Peggy’s as well as the author’sDamned good eh? I only wish I could write like this

DOWNLOAD ☆ SIGMAENCLOSURES.CO.UK À John Preston

A succinct and witty literary venture that tells the strange story of a priceless treasure discovered in East Anglia on the eve of World War II  In the long hot summer of 1939 Britain is preparing for war but on a riverside farm in Suffolk there is excitement of another kind Mrs Pretty the widowed owner of the fa This beautifully composed short novel by John Preston may be most notable for its simplicity and understatement In restrained tones that recall JL Carr’s A Month in the Country we are treated to Edith Pretty aged and wealthy owner of Sutton Hoo estate who determines to discover if there is anything inside the earthwork mounds that dot her riverside Suffolk property It is 1939 and the threat of a German invasion is everywhere discussedPreston’s fiction would be wonderful even if it didn’t describe a real event the discovery in 1939 of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for a king long turned to sand containing jewels and helmets coins and gold trinkets silver bowls and implements When it was discovered the find redefined Britain’s Dark Ages for what it showed of human capability and development

SUMMARY The Dig By John Preston

Rm has had her hunch confirmed that the mounds on her land hold buried treasure As the dig proceeds it becomes clear that this is no ordinary find             This fictional recreation of the famed Sutton Hoo dig follows three months of intense activity when locals fought outsiders professionals thwarte This got rave reviews when it was published a couple of years ago from readers as diverse as Ian McEwan engrossing exuisitely original Robert Harris enthrallingoriginal and Nigella Lawson who was so absorbed she skipped lunchI don't really understand all the hype It was a pleasant enough short read; Preston writes beautifully but at the end I did wonder what the point was The novel is so understated as to be almost inaudible; all that is clear is that he's drawing parallels between the digging up of the frail remains of things and the excavation of his characters' repressed thoughts and feelings It's rather reminiscent of On Chesil Beach in that sense although McEwan was excruciatingly forensic in his description of the young couple on their wedding night Here small isolated incidents are reported but just as you feel something is going to happen Preston moves on to something else In the end you know as much about the characters as you would if you had dug up their material remains in 600 years which is of course part of the point of the bookFootnote I hadn't realised till I read other reviews that Peggy Pigott was Preston's Aunt and it was this almost chance discovery that spurred him to visit Sutton Hoo and write the book This too gives some insight into how much of our own and our family's past can be hidden from us


About the Author: John Preston

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