Ian Colford’s Reviews > The Field of the Cloth of Gold

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The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills

Read in February 2018

3 of 5 stars

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills is a deceptively simple tale that tells of the founding of a settlement on what in the novel becomes known as “The Great Field.” Bounded on three sides by a river and by wilderness on the other, the field is a temptingly verdant patch that attracts the attention of various wanderers, who pitch their tents and burrow in for the long haul. When the unnamed narrator arrives (we are never told from where), the only other inhabitant is Hen, who has set himself up on the western margin. The narrator comes with high hopes. For some reason, never articulated, he views the field as “the place where momentous events would unfold and come to fruition.” He is a gregarious sort who values honesty and will go to lengths to see that others get along. The next to arrive is Thomas, he of the flowing white robe and imperious manner, who erects his elaborate tent in the south-east (the geography is described with precision throughout). Isabella comes next, with her crimson tent. The story, such as it is, is built around such comings and goings, interactions and the buzz of rumor among the inhabitants. An organized group arrives, led by Julian. They stay briefly, and when they leave Thomas goes with them. Thomas returns, and then the same group returns, but this time without Julian. All along, the narrator is kept busy speculating about what is driving the movement and upheaval. We see the action through his eyes, and though he participates in some activities, he is a loner and mostly an observer. When the population of the field begins to grow with many arrivals in a short time, it becomes difficult for him to keep up with peoples’ motivations and intentions. Along the way, there are conflicts, disagreements, bad behaviour, deception, and ebb and flow in the balance of power. To readers of Magnus Mills, it will come as no surprise that the action of the novel takes place in a bubble, with no reference to an outside world consisting of familiar landmarks. Inevitably, or so it seems, we are invited to see the Great Field as England, and the various arrivals as the tribes who descended on the island over the centuries, stayed or left, but somehow made their mark. In the end, with emotions running at a fever pitch, the narrator learns to indulge in some morally dubious fudging of the truth, and thereby ensure his survival. With innocence lost, can anarchy be far behind?