Primary Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Published: May 2007 by Viking Press (first publication)
Page count: 231 (print length, varies by edition)
My Format: eBook via Overdrive/Libby
Do I Recommend: Yes
Commission Link (U.S.): Buy The Dig
My rating: ★★★☆☆
In the long, hot summer of 1939, Britain is preparing for war, but on a riverside farm in Suffolk there is excitement of another kind. Mrs. Pretty, the widowed owner of the farm, has had her hunch confirmed that the mounds on her land hold buried treasure. As the dig proceeds, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary find. And soon the discovery leads to all kinds of jealousies and tensions.
John Preston’s recreation of the Sutton Hoo dig – the greatest Anglo-Saxon discovery ever in Britain – brilliantly and comically dramatizes three months of intense activity when locals fought outsiders, professionals thwarted amateurs, and love and rivalry flourished in equal measure.
I really want to watch the Netflix movie The Dig, so I had to read the book first. Here are my pros and cons for The Dig:
- If you know absolutely nothing about the Sutton Hoo archeological dig, this book, although a fictional account, is a decent place to start. It is written simply, isn’t particularly technical, and has a decent personal aspect.
- This book is short. If you have 2-3 free hours, you can finish it in one sitting.
- The story is told from different perspectives of the people who were there during the dig. Sections of the book are like vignettes of personal experiences. We hear from Basil Brown (the original excavator), Edith Pretty (the landowner), Peggy Piggott (a young archeologist), and Robert Pretty (Edith’s young son). While I think this format did impact the typical story arc we are accustomed to in novels, it wasn’t overwhelmingly distracting.
- The property owner’s son, Robert Pretty, was around 8 years old when the excavations started. I enjoyed how the story incorporated him into the activities around the dig. It was nice to witness the discovery through a child’s eyes.
- I appreciated the epilogue at the end of the book that provided some further information about what happened at Sutton Hoo after the original dig.
- Since this is quite a short novel, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed the personal aspects of the story as I mentioned above, but I would have appreciated a little more information about the dig and the artifacts they found as well!
- It is a little anticlimactic at the end… the story just kind of fizzles out.
- Artistic license is taken in this story and some of the details are fictionalized. I understand this is historical fiction and not non-fiction; however, I’m not really sure why some of the simpler details were changed (like dates). So just keep in mind that some information in the story is not factual.
I had the amazing privilege of seeing the Sutton Hoo artifacts in person at the British Museum in 2000. I knew very little about them at the time, but I remember being mesmerized by what I was seeing!
This is a nice book, and I recommend it; however, if you are interested in really learning about the Sutton Hoo archeological site, I encourage you to start with the Wikipedia page for Sutton Hoo. It provides a relatively thorough overview of the dig as well as gorgeous photographs of some of the artifacts uncovered.
By the way, as soon as I finished the book, I watched the Netflix movie. It stays pretty true to the book regarding the story presented, but I felt like the Movie flowed a little more organically than the novel. And I still wanted more detail about the artifacts they found and the dig itself!
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