The Great Field lies verdant fresh within the crook of a river that bends around it. On three sides lie water with the other open to a great wilderness that stretches away in the far distance. A few tents reside upon the field when new settlers arrive bearing odd cultures, offering different ways of living that are unlike those of the first settlers. The newcomers are organised; precise in their habits with methods that the others find exasperating. There then comes the offer of free milk pudding as by way of reconciliation. It is an offer hard to refuse but refuse it the older settlers do – all bar one.
‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ is a fable, one that, xenophobically perhaps, views migration as the clash of differing cultures in a world rife with fear of change, of alteration from ways long established.
We meet the unnamed narrator, (an oft-used ploy of Mill’s), who introduces us to an array of characters that populate the tale with odd or wondrous names.
Mills genius is in the neat, precise and efficient way he writes his narrative. There are no clever punctuation marks, no convoluted syntax, just pure, unadulterated English. But it is the manner in which he employs prosaic subject matter for inspiration and mixing with it a dry humour that captures the imagination. The dialogue too is without embellishment. The language is as earthy as one would expect given the coarseness of his working men. The story itself is a little disturbing with implications both subtle and sinister.
Mill’s art is much like his day job, (bus driver) a deceptively difficult thing made to look comparatively easy by the effortless manner in which he carries out his task. The direct style of prose acts as a platform for deadpan comic delivery, which is made all the funnier as the style becomes the foil for the book’s humour. The characters’ lives are often depicted as mundane, but it is this apparent tedium that gives leverage to the comic interludes. As they say up north, ‘there is nowt as queer as folk’ and in Magnus Mills case this is patently so.
With this, his eighth novel, Mills has set his target to the sun and, unlike the chap who flew too close, the writer seems impervious to the heat. His literary wings are not of wax and feathers but of a fancy sewn into a literary fabric that is accessible and fun; very droll, very English, it is like a dry built stonewall resolutely defying the fads of fashion yet still utterly engaging.