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The Dig

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,585 ratings  ·  361 reviews
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 farmer, has had her hunch proved correct that the strange mounds on her land hold buried treasure. As the dig proceeds against a background of mounting national anxiety, it becomes clear though that this is no ordinary ...more
Paperback, 233 pages
Published May 29th 2008 by Penguin (first published May 3rd 2007)
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Stephanie Apparently pregnant. She "couldn't say" and we have to assume that the used bed in the unused room was included for some such reason.…moreApparently pregnant. She "couldn't say" and we have to assume that the used bed in the unused room was included for some such reason.(less)

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  2,585 ratings  ·  361 reviews

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Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This beautifully composed short novel by John Preston may be most notable for its simplicity and understatement. In restrained tones that recall J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, we are treated to Edith Pretty, aged and wealthy owner of Sutton Hoo estate, who determines to discover if there is anything inside the earthwork mounds that dot her riverside Suffolk property. It is 1939 and the threat of a German invasion is everywhere discussed.

Preston’s fiction would be wonderful even if it didn’t
I found this to be a very disappointing fictional treatment of an exciting archaeological event -- the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, UK in 1939. The book has received good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, and I want to emphasize that my rating is based solely on my personal reaction to this book.

The story seems to focus on the drudgery of the actual physical labour and the annoying bickering among the various archaeologists and museum officials. The at
Roger Brunyate
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not-So-Dark Ages

Serious fiction these days is often so complex and allusive, that it is a real pleasure to read a novel that tells a story absolutely straight, with plenty of human interest, yet without slighting the considerable intellectual value of the subject. The Dig is an account of the 1939 excavations at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, on the east coast of England. The intricacy of the artifacts from the largest of these, a ship-burial datable to the late sixth century, completely altered the preva
Victor Sonkin
Found this because I saw there would be a (Netflix, I think) movie based on the story. This is a fictionalized account of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure in 1939; quite remarkable and groundbreaking. The story is good, the method chosen by the author (different characters, all of them, to the best of my understanding, are real people, describe different parts of the story) is also quite solid. The problem is that it is a real story, too much fantasy would kind of spoil it. So it is not ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: archaeology
I actually picked up a tattered paperback copy of The Dig several years ago after seeing it referenced online in a discussion about books that do a good job of portraying an archaeological dig. It wasn't until I was offered an ARC of the new edition, however, that I finally made time for John Preston and his literary treasure hunt.

To be honest, if I didn't feel obligated to give it a review, I likely would have discarded this to the DNF pile. There was some interesting history behind it, and an
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It is 1939 in East Anglia, and Britain is on edge, knowing that war is imminent. But at Sutton Hoo, another type of excitement is taking place. An ancient Anglo-Saxon burial ground is in the process of being uncovered on the grounds of the widow Edith Pretty. The archaeological team must work quickly before war strikes.

This is a modest book without lots of bells and whistles and it is inspired by true events. In an area characterized by “bloody-mindedness and general dislike of authority”, a dis
Mar 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This got rave reviews when it was published a couple of years ago, from readers as diverse as Ian McEwan ( "engrossing, exquisitely original"), Robert Harris ("enthralling...original"), and Nigella Lawson, who was so absorbed she skipped lunch.[

I don't really understand all the hype. It was a pleasant enough (short) read; Preston writes beautifully, but at the end I did wonder what the point was. The novel is so understated as to be almost inaudible; all that is clear is that he's drawing parall
The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane)
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
In 1939 Edith Perry contacted the Ipswich Museum about some mounds she wanted excavated on her property in East Anglia. The museum recommended an amateur archeologist, Basil Brown. Mr Brown went on to uncover one of the most significant sites of medieval history in England. What ensured was a battle between Museums and property owns for the priceless objects found.

John Preston has offered us a fictionalized account of this dig. Using four different narrator's, Preston covers the period of April
Aug 03, 2019 rated it liked it
A fairly pleasant short fictional account of the summer of 1939 when the Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered. It contains as much fact as fiction, slightly dull in places, but interesting nevertheless as its fairly local to me. There were bits of the story that didn't seem to go anywhere so not sure why they were included. It has inspired me to read my factual books about Sutton Hoo again though. ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This interesting little novel is set in 1939 and centres on the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. I picked it up because of the Suffolk connection and rapidly became engrossed. The archaeological discoveries give the book its narrative drive, almost like a mystery drama, and Preston conjures effectively the tension of a nation on the brink of war. The book develops poignantly themes of evanescence and transience: the everpresence of death and the dead, and the m ...more
Mitch Karunaratne
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Loved the movie - the book didn’t quite match up (a rarity for me!). Prestons language is sparse and he has created a compulsive story that explores the 3 months that surround the discovery of the greatest Anglo Saxon discovery of our age. It’s fashioned on a true story and is a great launch pad to learn more around this event. What the movie did - that I was longing for in the book - was really capture the suffolk landscape.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel for how it makes archaeology lyrical, poetic, and personal. I think it's Peggy Piggott who says something like "here we are attempting to unearth another civilization when ours is on the brink of collapse" (the Sutton Hoo dig takes place in 1939). This, and other connections between the Anglo-Saxon ship-burial and the private lives of the people involved in the excavation, is what makes it so good. For example, Edith Pretty still mourns the death of her husband, so digging for ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
The prospect of a novelisation of the archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo doesn't immediately fill one with excitement, but the characers are nicely fleshed out, hinting at hidden turmoil beneath the stilted 1930s veneer. The story builds up nicely then suddenly comes to an end before you feel you've really got under the skin of the protagonists and their motivations. It's evocative and readable but the studied understatement is curiously unsatisfying, leaving one feeling it could have been much mo ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, contemplative and nostalgic, yet somehow exciting and fresh. John Preston's prose is subtle, yet precise. The story is, well, history itself. ...more
Margaret George
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved it. I had seen the Netflix film, "The Dig" and that brought me to the book to learn more. It as beautifully written and captured not only the time and place (1939) but also the timeless excitement of finding the remains of a lost world.

I would have liked more about the family connection to the dig (the author is a nephew Peggy Piggot, one of the dig's participants) but that was not what the book was about.

I haven't seen the Sutton Hoo treasures in the British Museum but next time I am
Spare novel that everyone in my book club read differently, which was a good thing for our discussion! I was interested in the dynamic of an approaching war, global unrest, and cultural upheaval in Britain versus the discovery of treasure from a lost, buried civilization; one of my colleagues wanted more historical depth and archaeological description and background; one of the group members was searching for more of the political and ethical intrigue between the warring factions of academics, m ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The blurb on the back of the book says nothing about this being a fictionalized account of the dig at Sutton Hoo. A quote by Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times describes this as “a little masterpiece of fictional archaeology.” So I anticipated an interesting read, having no idea that I’d be drawn into the story as much as I was. The details were such that I turned to Google to look up Sutton Hoo, and that is when I realized that this was based on an actual event.

The book is divided into sections wit
Murray Ewing
In 1939, with war looming, Mrs Edith Pretty, owner of Sutton Hoo House, decides to have the burial mounds on her land investigated. Freelance archaeologist Basil Brown, an expert on Suffolk soil, starts work on some of the smaller mounds, but at first finds little of interest. Finally, with other, more promising sites calling for attention elsewhere, he agrees to one last try, and starts on the main mound, despite his feeling that it will already have been looted. Then he starts to uncover a shi ...more
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A re-read which I couldn't wait to re-read. Its about the great discovery at Sutton Hoo but so much more and I loved it. Its about love, grief, class, war, gender, small town politics, age, invasion, respect, marriage, death all rolled up in the sleepy Suffolk soil. A brilliant piece of writing.
Sarah Greene
Feb 18, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 Read this after seeing the new Netflix adaptation. I'm not sure it actually provides anything more than the movie was able to do, and several storylines the movie was actually able to develop a little better (since it was an adaptation of a book that already takes liberties with the actual story). But it was a compelling introduction to the story of Sutton Hoo and definitely inspired me to go to more research (even if that included finding out all the things that were historically inaccurate ...more
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An engaging short fictionalized account of the Sutton Hoo treasure discovery that hit all the right marks for me in this time of unknowns and mysteries.

Perhaps most compelling was the magical fact that ancient artifacts were being unearthed at the same time World War was marching toward Great Britain.

Gently but persistently I sensed the author reminding us of the frailty and impermanence of our lives, but the reality of the small traces we leave behind. Strangely I felt bolstered by this.

Yes, pe
Iona Sharma
Aug 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018, 2017
What a fantastically dreadful book. It's a fictionalised account of the archaeological dig that led to the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon ship at Sutton Hoo, which took place in the summer of 1939 - an evocative setting for a story, you would have thought. The archaeologists on the dig are frantically uncovering the past as their present intrudes, at first in whispers and then violently. You might do it as a dark comedy - the small village, the eccentric archaeologists, preoccupied with the Anglo- ...more
J.S. Dunn
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Straightforward, assured tale of the Sutton Hoo excavation. Refreshing. A quick read.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Why don't you tell me what made you become interested in photography?"
"I suppose it seemed a way of trying to fix moments as they went past. To try to capture them and give them some physical existence. Stop them from being lost for ever. Not that it necessarily works like that."

Summer, 1939. Eight decades ago, with the prospect of war in the offing, a dig at the site of some mysterious mounds in Suffolk was under way. We now know that Sutton Hoo was the site of the largest ever ship burial in
Anne Brooke
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fabulous novel based around the Sutton Hoo discovery in Suffolk in 1939. The research is first-class and lightly worn in such a way that it's intricately woven with the story about obsession, love and loss. The relationship between the past and the present as set against the potential horrors of the second world war to come is expertly handled. The relationships between people are delicately portrayed and the ending too is simply perfect. I loved it. ...more
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable read for me. Even though it is a light read, it sucked me in right from the start. I read it in two sittings and didn’t want to put the book down. Although there isn’t an in-depth plot or indepth character building, I was interested. This is a historical fiction, based on real events. After reading this I plan on seeing if there are some documentaries or non fiction books on this event.
Marilyn Saul
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fun book for me. Granted, as an archaeologist, I did a lot of cringing because of the horrible, haphazard archaeology of the early 1900s (in this case 1939) - no mapping, no photographs, just rip the finds out of the site, no conservation - but that was how it was back then. Overall, it was a very nice book with a not-overly-done side story, and it was a quick read. If you like digs, you'll likely enjoy this. ...more
Kyrie Beckman
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
After closing the book, I thought I didn't like this story. I thought that it was not exciting enough. I allowed the story and the characters to percolate a little longer in my mind. The longer I did, the more I liked it.

I like the simplicity of the book. It's a steady narrative of what took place. A beautiful tale. I enjoyed delving into an archaelogical find that I knew nothing about.

My favorite character was Basil Brown. He is such a handsome character. Humble. Kind. Persistent.
Feb 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
I heard this book was going to be a Netflix show or is now. Since I was displeased with Queens Gambit which now also has a Netflix show I decided to give this a shot. It was alright, boring at times but still alright. I wish there was more on archeologists and how they actually do their work, felt the dialogue was more about how their days went and not too much about their digs.
Matthijs van Soest
This was a fun listen with great narration, but it is an instance where I would have to say that the movie captured my imagination a little better, maybe because of the ability to actually show some of the treasures rather than describe only a very few in the text. There are other character details that are better represented in the book, where the limitation of time in a movie just has to leave somethings out. So definitely worth a read/listen even if you have seen the movie.
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John Preston is the arts editor and television critic of the Sunday Telegraph. He is the author of three highly acclaimed novels, including Kings of the Roundhouse (2005), and a travel book, Touching the Moon. He lives in London.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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