“Wonderfully subtle and understated” – The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers

IMG_2022-5-8-195222The Perfect Golden Circle is Benjamin Myers’ ninth work of fiction, and his work is now varied enough to see distinct periods. The Perfect Golden Circle is, like The Offing, steeped in the nostalgic atmosphere, and English countryside found in J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and, also like Carr’s classic novel, it has a damaged war veteran as its central character. We meet Calvert, a veteran of the Falklands War, ‘that dismal archipelago down on the Patagonian Shelf.’ He spends his summers constructing crop circles with Redbone, a ‘crust-punk’, and their friendship, distant and barely stated though it is, supports them both. It is a release from the world around them, while they are creating their crop circles,

‘all signs of modern civilisation were nowhere to be seen. There was only the night, the moment, and new mythologies waiting to be spun.’

This is a historical novel, recreating the 1980s and its folk culture as seen from the pages of tabloid newspapers; a time of crop circles, rave culture and the Battle of the Beanfield. If the novel came with a soundtrack, it would be the music of the Levellers and New Model Army. Like another of Myers’ historical novels, The Gallows Pole, it is but one more chapter in the history of an alternative England where individuals resist authority and create mythologies that will sustain their descendants. England is ‘a kingdom that belongs entirely to the dreaming dissenters and the rat-tailed revolutionaries.’

Calvert observes of the crop circles they are creating,

‘they tell a strange story, create a narrative. More than anything, they are something to believe in during cynical times … Hope is the human currency, and we’re spreading it about.’

By the end of this wonderfully subtle and understated novel, we begin to understand the parallels between the crop circles Calvert and Redbone work on and the stone circles in Stonehenge and Avebury: ‘the mystery of exactly who constructed such a circle, and why, still endures to this day.’ They are building another English legend with their credo of ‘fuel the myth and strive for beauty.’

The Perfect Golden Circle is very much a two-hander, Calvert and Redbone are the only fully formed characters. There are walk-on parts for some representatives of rural society, including a landowner, the Earl Alexander of Wincham, who could have walked out of Brideshead Revisited or ‘The Beano’. This is a rural society with its traditions and purpose removed, home now to fly-tippers and the occasional dogger rather than farmers. It is reminiscent of Mark Ravenhill’s Jerusalem, where our connection to the land is fading and the survival of older values are being lost: ‘there are fields full of stories … now lie rotting deep in the rich soil of a singular cemetery called England.’ Yet again, Myers powerfully states the power of those older values, how they heal and endure, while appearing in new forms across generations and millenia.

Any Cop?: Benjamin Myers manages to write novels of increasing importance, asking what happened in previous decades to get us to this point in English history, where the seriousness of his purpose is matched by how entertaining and engrossing they are.

James Doyle

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