cover image The Dig

The Dig

John Preston. Other Press, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-59051-780-2

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.)