The Dig

The Dig

3.0 1
by John Preston
     
 

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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 farm, has had her hunch

Overview

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 farm, 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 thwarted amateurs, and love and rivalry flourished in equal 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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Pye
You dig things up at your peril, and a thousand movies tell you why: Buried scandals come back, along with half-dead monsters, jewels with curses and far too many Egyptian queens. John Preston's subtle new novel, The Dig, imagines something even more remarkable: an excavation that carefully, gently exposes the searchers' own lives and feelings to the light, just as they brush sand away from buried treasure. He has written a kind of site report that shimmers with longing and regret…Preston writes with economical grace. He shows the start of love delicately and also its failure. He is witty about the true English vice, which is pointless, pompous snobbery. He never stresses; he allows his people to live. He lets nightingales sing sadly without training them to be metaphors. He has written a kind of universal chamber piece, small in detail, beautifully made and liable to linger on in the heart and the mind. It is something utterly unfamiliar, and quite wonderful.
Publishers Weekly
02/22/2016
The real 1939 excavation of an Anglo-Saxon burial site becomes a moving tale of mortality and the passage of time in Preston’s affecting novel. As war with Germany nears, aging widow Edith Pretty decides to have the mounds on her Suffolk land excavated. Self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown leads the dig, and Edith’s young son, Robbie, is eager to assist. However, as the remains of an enormous ship and elaborate objects are unearthed, word reaches the British Museum, and Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips replaces Brown as head of the exploration. Stakes are high for all involved; Mrs. Pretty is realizing a dream shared with her late husband, whom she attempts to contact through a London medium; Brown is determined to finally make something of himself; and newlywed Peggy Piggott, brought in with her husband and erstwhile professor Stuart, finds in her work the fulfillment she’s discovering won’t come from her marriage. Preston is subtle but precise in his characterizations, and meticulous with period detail, weaving in newspaper advertisements and descriptions of Suffolk earth, to occasionally laborious effect. The novel is redeemed by his deep investment in his characters: they in turn become invested in the history of the ship, just as their way of life faces its greatest threat. Agent: Natasha Fairweather, United Agents. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“All the elements are here for a corking adventure yarn, perhaps in the style of Howard Carter’s account of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, which we see Mrs. Pretty reading. Yet despite the fact that most of the characters are real people…the novel’s interests are psychological rather than factual. Even as marvels are uncovered, an insistent strain of melancholy blows through these pages… The ambient dread is partly due to the gathering storm of World War II…But the apprehension is also metaphysical, connected to the fact that the archaeologists are not digging for buried treasure so much as disturbing a grave. Mr. Preston delicately portrays the effect the specters of mortality and decay have on each narrator. As it brushes away the soil from the remarkable ship, The Dig stages understated excavations of marriage (both Basil’s and Peggy’s) and parenthood (Mrs. Pretty, who became a mother at 47, fears she won’t live to see her son grown up). Thus Mr. Preston creates an intriguing and ultimately moving concoction, a true-life chronicle that delves into secrets of the heart.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Shimmers with longing and regret . . . Preston writes with economical grace . . . He has written a kind of universal chamber piece, small in detail, beautifully made and liable to linger on  in the heart and the mind. It is something utterly unfamiliar, and quite wonderful.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A timeless tale of ancient English treasure. . . Beautifully understated.” —Seattle Times

"As homey at times as chamomile tea but spiked with pointed undercurrents, this is a real treat for a reader who can appreciate its quiet pleasures." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A very fine, engrossing, and exquisitely original novel.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement

“Wistful and poignant. A masterpiece in Chekhovian understatement.” —Times Literary Supplement

“An enthralling story of love and loss, a real literary treasure. One of the most original novels of the year.” —Robert Harris, author of An Officer and a Spy

“A moving tale of mortality and the passage of time . . . affecting . . . Preston is subtle but precise in his characterizations, and meticulous with period detail.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“The Dig offers both a vividly reimagined slice of history and a tantalizing rumination on what remains after we cease to exist” —Booklist 

“Intensely human . . . [The Dig] constantly reminds us, rediscovering the past is a deeply equivocal pursuit . . .  Preston keeps an iron grip on the reader's attention . . .  a wonderful, evocative book. From his simple tale of dirt, Preston has produced the finest gold.” The Guardian
 
“A rich vein of dry humor runs throughout.” —Evening Standard
 
“Intriguing, tender and entertaining . . . easily Preston's best.” —The Independent
 
“A delicate, quietly affecting human drama.” —Daily Mail
 
“A moving novel that coheres wonderfully as it progresses.” —Spectator
 
“A delicate evocation of a vanished era.” —Sunday Times
 
“Beautifully written . . . there is a true and wonderful ending to the story.” —Bill Wyman, Mail on Sunday
 
“Exciting, evocative and beautifully written . . . A treasure in itself.” —Griff Rhys Jones
 
“So absorbing that I read right through lunchtime one day, and it's not often I miss a meal.” —Nigella Lawson

Library Journal
03/15/2016
Reading this fourth novel by the arts editor of the Sunday Telegraph means you'll never again need to ask, "Sutton who?" This is a lively and informative fictionalized account of the 1939 excavation that unearthed the Anglo-Saxon royal treasure hoard, known as Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, England. Told by multiple narrators, the story unfolds gradually, revealing its essence, much like, well, a dig. The stately home, Sutton Hoo, on whose grounds the treasure is found, is overseen by an older widow with a young son, whose scampering about lends a bit of lightheartedness to the proceedings. There's also an efficient butler tidying up the place. The excavation is initially undertaken by an amateur archaeologist living in the area. This being prewar Britain, however, once the importance of the cache is recognized, class and power rear their influential heads, and the locals get elbowed aside by the big boys from Cambridge and the British Museum. The site itself, its multicolored sands and clays and levels, is one of the major characters. VERDICT With its sense of a magical land, awareness of class concerns, and unrelenting understatement and reticence, this tale is as English as a picnic by the side of the road in a light drizzle. As Downton Abbey sinks into the sunset, bereft Abbots might find some consolation here, and, added depth, naturally.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-01-21
A historical novel that looks at the foibles and emotions of people involved in an archaeological dig on the grounds of a Suffolk, England, estate in 1939. When Edith Pretty wants to know what lies beneath the earthen mounds on her property, she hires Basil Brown, a soil expert recommended by the local Ipswich Museum. Brown soon realizes he's working on one of the most important finds in England. But word gets out, and all too soon an oversized figure is descending the ladder into Brown's dig. It's Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips, bow-tied and bumptious, who bullies his way into control of the site. Cut to a coastal hotel where Stuart and Peggy Piggott are but a few days into their tepid honeymoon ("After breakfast Stuart went for his morning walk") when a telegram from Phillips summons them to the dig. The two archaeologists hasten to Brown's mound and soon come upon gold ornaments and other evidence of a kingly interment that may well "alter our entire understanding of the Dark Ages," Peggy opines. Signs of the approaching war slowly accumulate: trenches dug in Hyde Park; barrage balloons above Suffolk. Using the voices of Edith, Basil, and Peggy, Preston (Kings of the Roundhouse, 2005, etc.) gives different views of the project while working in diversions and digressions: a cave-in that almost kills Basil; Edith's weakness for spiritualists; the unspoken tale behind the untidy bed in an unused guestroom and a servant's sudden departure. There's a bittersweet aside in which one of Edith's nephews and Peggy so quickly warm to each other that romance seems about to bloom amid the artifacts. As homey at times as chamomile tea but spiked with pointed undercurrents, this is a real treat for a reader who can appreciate its quiet pleasures.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780141016382
Publisher:
Penguin UK
Publication date:
07/29/2008
Pages:
256

Meet the Author

John Preston is the arts editor and television critic of the Sunday Telegraph. He is the author of three highly acclaimed novels, including Kings of the Roundhouse (2005), and a travel book, Touching the Moon. He lives in London.

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The Dig 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Laura_at_125Pages 8 months ago
3.5 Stars I had vaguely heard of the Sutton Hoo discovery when I requested this book. But I liked the synopsis of a retelling of an important historical discovery. Kindof like Indiana Jones in book form. Well The Dig was not Temple of Doom, but it was a fast, fun read that encompassed history and a little drama in a pre-war setting. A widow, Mrs. Petty and her young son live in Sutton Hoo surrounded by earthen mounds. On the verge of World War II she contacts with a freelance archeologist to find out what is inside. Uncovering much more than they thought, other organizations come to claim the find and to rule The Dig. The plot of The Dig was very interesting. Based on real events, it supposed what might have been said and how the parties acted. The writing of John Preston was succinct and strong. He made a very dry situation enjoyable and intriguing. However, I was confused at some points as the various parties involved all blended together. The pacing was good; it followed a very specific time line. The world created was also good, as it was based on real locations. There was not a strong emotional tie in the storyline as it was more fact based and less focused on feelings. I enjoyed the characters as they were all strongly rooted in their ideals. However, a few of the archeologists seemed interchangeable. I enjoyed The Dig and liked getting out of my usual reading categories. As not a huge history buff, some scenes were a little dry for my taste, but that did not hamper my enjoyment much. John Preston created an interesting take on a historical fiction and I would recommend. It was interesting to enter that time in such a specific way. Original review @ 125Pages.com I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.