Book review: ‘Cuddy’ by Benjamin Myers

‘Cuddy’ by Benjamin Myers

I very much looked forward to reading Benjamin Myers’ multi-prize-winning novel Cuddy, having enjoyed his earlier novels The Gallows Pole and The Offing. I felt a particular connection with this novel, as the titular ‘Cuddy’ is the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon monk/bishop St Cuthbert, whose remains lie buried in the magnificent monument constructed in his memory, Durham Cathedral. I occasionally studied (but mostly drank) at Durham University in the mid-1980s, visited Cuthbert’s grave on several occasions, and once attended a fascinating talk about St Cuthbert by the historian Michael Wood, who had been more than a little responsible—along with J.R.R. Tolkien—for my interest in Dark-Age history (a far cooler name than the nowadays more acceptable term, early-medieval history).

I have to say, I was pretty blown away by Cuddy, reading it in two days flat during a birthday break in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s a highly experimental novel, feeling something akin to a multi-media experience, mixing poetry, prayer, play-script, journal entries, and prose. The four ‘books’ of the novel span a 1,300-year period, and are told from numerous viewpoints, including: a member of the entourage of the band of medieval monks who moved Cuthbert’s corpse around the North, trying to keep it safe from Viking raiders; a woman brewer who kept the stonemasons lubricated during the construction of Durham Cathedral; a Victorian antiquarian called to the inhospitable North to witness the opening of Cuthbert’s tomb; and a modern-day Durham lad trying to make ends meet while caring for his dying mother. Although the stories are fictional, they are set amid real historical events, and are loosely threaded together down the ages through familiar characters, who are presumably the descendants of people we met earlier.

As you will have gathered by now, Cuddy is extremely difficult to describe. It is also extremely good.

Highly recommended.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Disclosure: I live near Benjamin Myers, and have met him on several occasions. We also follow each other on social media.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.

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