“it is the mystery of the old Anglo-Saxon settlement of Athlingwold which drives the plot forward”
John Cragg’s novel ‘Athlingwold’ tells the story of young solicitor, Dan Aysgarth, who arrives from Oxford, to the little Dorset town of Athlingwold, where, wrecked by the death of its owner, Mr. Argue, the Argue Law firm is struggling to keep afloat. His project, to save the firm from ruin, leads him on a journey- encountering along the way the unique individuals connected to the town and firm- to the very roots of the town’s history. One of his encounters, with the mysterious and attractive Aerona Athlingham -a feisty young woman, whose name seems to crop up at every turn- catches his eye, and budding romance springs up between them. And yet, as Aerona’s brother Jack and his plans for construction on the land begin to interfere with Dan’s work and relationship, the couple struggle to overcome their difficulties to save both their relationship, and the harmony within the town and its people.
Central to Cragg’s novel is its geographical location; it is the mystery of the old Anglo-Saxon settlement of Athlingwold which drives the plot forward. In a fashion comparable to the way in which the setting for her book, ‘Wuthering Heights’ plays a vital role in the progression of Emily Bronte’s gothic novel (and is, in the same way as Athlingwold, the very title of the novel), Cragg’s drama is inextricably linked to the novel’s setting in Athlingwold. The ancient legends surrounding this area, and which appear intrinsically allied with Aerona’s own life, adds another mysterious dimension to the young couple’s problems. Aerona’s place in the mystery however- as resembling the mythical woman, from whom once stemmed the erratic laws which decreed the running of the town- eventually aids in the denouement of the battle against Jack and his plans to urbanise. In addition to the complications caused by the remaining of members of the Argue family, with whom Dan is inextricably linked, (due to the nature of his work and mission), the resulting chaos- in the midst of which, the originally unassuming Dan suddenly finds himself- is presented to the reader as remarkably gripping.
“remarkably gripping, well-written and imaginative”
In terms of enjoyment level, this well-written and imaginative, almost mythical novel — integrating into the story the myths of Celtic goddesses, and folk-law of ancient Romano-English communities- directs itself more towards adult readers, and is best suited perhaps to those with an already cultivated interest of the workings of law and ancient mythology. The discrete humour- stemming from the protagonist’s humorously sarcastic and witty voice, as well as the author’s ability to mimic the Dorset dialect and Australian vernacular, in his other characters- adds another element to the enjoyment of the novel.
Set against the backdrop of the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, the controversy mine-closing, and the resultant social unrest and miner’s strikes (such as the famous Battle of Orgreave, mentioned in the novel), as well as the mention of other current issues such as homosexuality (in relation to the heroine Aerona herself), the novel sheds light on the many different dimensions and complexities which make up our current society, to positive effect.
‘Athlingwold’ by John Cragg, available from Mardibooks on Amazon