A Review of John Cragg’s Athlingwold by Claire Steele
Set in the 1980s in a failing small-town solicitor’s office in the Dorset countryside, John Cragg’s novel Athlingwold interrogates the fragile laws which govern our social and political relationships.
“the novel warns that neglect of history’s lessons might yield devastating consequences for the present”
Troubleshooting solicitor from Oxford, Dan Aysgarth, attempts to change the fortunes of a comically failing law firm. The fictional village of ‘Athlingwold’ harbours a treasury of secrets; including neighbours whose feudal arrogance veils a dark past and complex socio-sexual relationships. The novel also warns that neglect of history’s lessons might yield devastating consequences for the present.
“[Cragg] also touches on trust, immigration, paternity issues and justice”
A family feud about inheritance plays itself out in a battle between preservation and innovation. This provides the framework for an unflinching commentary on how we structure society. Cragg is unafraid to tackle the big social issues of the time: the miners’ strike, fox-hunting, gay rights, feminism. In addition, he also touches on trust, immigration, paternity issues and justice. Sometimes these ideas threaten to get in the way of the story. Yet, knowing that character drives the plot, Cragg keeps faithful to his characters’ voices and the story never lacks for pace.
“Beautiful women turn out to have hidden loyalties”
The machinations of greedy men, intent on furthering their own ruthless interests, imperil the very survival of Athlingwold. Beautiful women turn out to have hidden loyalties and unexpected resources for resisting the competing authorities of men. Man’s determined and reckless expansion of their own fortune threatens the fabric of society and the shape of the landscape itself and the prosperity of those who have worked on it for generations.
“Cragg’s understanding of character is consistently affectionate”
This is a novel in which every small thing throws up powerful memories, and it is that energy which animates the story. Cragg is adept at using acquisitions, found objects, possessions and papers to construct character. Laced with gentle humour, Cragg’s understanding of character is consistently affectionate.
“It is the story of one generation living in the shadow of another”
Part love story, part mystery, part social study, Athlingwold majors on the way the past erupts into the present in ways that are perplexing, disturbing and upsetting, yet ultimately affirming. It is the story of one generation living in the shadow of another, set in a landscape shaped by the lives and treasures of those who have lived in it for centuries.
Link to ebook Athlingwold by John Cragg via Amazon: