Author, Bloomsbury, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, Magnus Mills, Publisher, satire

‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ by Magnus Mills


Fiction – hardcover; Bloomsbury Publishing; 224 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

It’s no secret that I am a Magnus Mills fan, so I was naturally keen to read his latest book, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, as soon as it came thudding through the door. It’s been almost four years since his last novel, but it turned out to be worth the wait, for this is another profound story characterised by Mills’ typical bare-boned prose, tongue-in-cheek humour and incisive commentary on the foibles of human beings.

A tented village

The story revolves around a large irregularly-shaped field — known as The Great Field — situated in the bend of a “broad, meandering river”.

Dotted across this lush, green field are several tents of various size, shape and description, but over time more and more tents appear as people arrive to take advantage of the beautiful views, fresh air and quietude. But as the population of this quiet backwater steadily increases, disputes over territory, views and resources arise.

When a trench is created under the guise of drainage control for the (always damp) south-east corner, it doesn’t take long for some inhabitants to realise it’s actually a wall — or a defensive rampart, depending on your point of view — designed to secure the best corner of the field for a select group: everyone else must simply move north.

If you think this sounds a little like a metaphor for Britain you’d probably be right. I read this surreal story trying to figure out its meaning — was it a fable about community? immigration? British history? — before I decided it could almost be anything you want it to be: it’s charm lies in its ability to be interpreted in a myriad of ways. It’s clever and smart and even if you don’t want to have to think about the points Mills might be making you can simply read the novel for what it is: a delightfully quirky and eccentric tale about a bunch of people living in a field and trying to get by the best they know how. I really loved it.

More reviews of Mills’ work

I’ve reviewed all of Mills’ previous novels on the site — simply click on the book titles to read the review: The Restraint of Beasts (1998), All Quiet on the Orient Express (1999), Three to See the King (2001), The Scheme for Full Employment (2003), Explorers of the New Century (2005), The Maintenance of Headway (2009) and A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In (2011).

10 thoughts on “‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ by Magnus Mills”

  1. Loved it too! It’s amazing how differently you can interpret Mills – I really like your North/South divide. I *think* I saw it more as a communal Waiting for Godot in a field – the antithesis of Field of Dreams – If you come, they will build it – perhaps not!


  2. You are so right about his books; they can be interpreted in many ways.

    If I had enough vacation days, I would go to the Edinburgh Book Fest to hear him speak about his latest work!


    1. He was launching his book/doing a reading at my local Waterstone’s in June, but unfortunately I was on holiday (in the UAE) at the time, so couldn’t go. I’d love to hear him do a reading.


  3. I haven’t read any Magnus Mills novels. Which book have you enjoyed the most? Or, in another way, where do you think it would be best to start?


    1. I’ve enjoyed them all, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. It’s hard to know which one to advise first. Try Three to see the King, which is indicative of his style. If you don’t like that one, chances are you won’t like any of his others.


  4. I loved his early books restraint of beast in particular made me laugh out loud not read his last few books shame he is a writer I really like amazing how easy it is to loss touch with a writer


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