Book Review: The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers

Set in rural England, 1989, The Perfect Golden Circle tells the story of two men who set out over the course of a summer to form elaborate crop circle patterns in the wheat fields under the cover of darkness. As their circles become increasingly intricate, their work gathers an international cult like following, pushing them to further their designs beyond anything ever seen before. Calvert is a Falklands veteran, suffering post traumatic stress, whilst Redbone is a free-wheeling traveller of sorts, a musician who has wandered Europe with various small-time bands, living a life of protest and substance enhanced contemplation. Two vastly different men, the most unlikely of friendships.

This is the second novel by Benjamin Myers that I have read, Beastings being the first. The Perfect Golden Circle couldn’t be more different to Beastings, which was far darker and written in a completely different style. Yet, the beauty of Benjamin’s writing persists across both novels. I really do need to read more of his work, I love the way he writes. Take this, for example, which is about an eclipse:

‘A dark crescent spreads like a silent malevolent force across the mottled greys and whites of the sullen moon’s countenance, its surface a curious patina. Redbone and Calvert stop what they are doing and stare upwards until their necks ache, not daring to drag their eyes away from the empyrean display. The blank clock-like face fades from view as the black shutter of the earth’s shadow covers it to create a total lunar eclipse, and for a few seconds it feels as if the darkness will be unending and absolute. Momentarily the land is an undeveloped photograph and time is rendered meaningless, and both Redbone and Calvert are aware that they are part of a long lineage of men and women who have stood in these very fields in rapt astonishment for thousands of years, infatuated and intrigued by the magic of the sky at night, and feeling the smallness of their lives and the preciousness of their planetary home.’

Themes of British colonisation weigh heavily throughout the narrative, informed mostly by Calvert’s experiences of fighting in the Falklands war. I found this interesting within a contemporary novel, the exploration of colonialism, that is. Hand in hand with this is Calvert’s feelings against war and his disdain for the British aristocracy. Woven together, it makes for a powerful sentiment encapsulated within a poetically beautiful novel about fighting trauma and power in the most imaginative of ways.

‘It means that, once, we looked to the horizon, and we wondered what lay beyond, and then set out for it. We colonised and plundered, and then when innocent people had been slaughtered and their resources accrued, we returned with riches. Then we turned inwards to slowly fester and moil in our bitterness for a century or two, fearful that someone would one day do the same to us. Believe me, I know because I’ve been a part of it, but never again. Never again. The sea is a border, a boundary, and living on an island like this makes us think we’re something special. But we’re not. We’re just scared, that’s all. We’re scared of the world. And that breeds arrogance and ignorance, and ignorance signals the death of decency.’

Here, Calvert is talking to Redbone about what an island mentality is within the context of British colonialism. His bitterness, as an SAS fighter within the British military is evident. What he gains from creating crop circles with Redbone in the dead of the night becomes more apparent as the novel progresses. It is a form of therapy for him, something to focus his traumatic mind upon, a way of setting that aside for this.

I felt an overwhelming sense of much of this novel being an ode to the environment and the ecosystem, climate change a looming threat throughout the heat wave of the English summer of 1989 that is the backdrop to this story. Indeed, Redbone and Calvert speak of theories of melting icecaps and a future planet that is too hot to inhabit. Back then, our naivety is striking to revisit. There are some utterly beguiling passages about nature and the connectivity of all living things. I sensed Benjamin’s passion for this, over and over.

‘All living things are connected between seed and sod, and sod and sky, and when one component in the chain of production is altered, ailing or inefficient the entire ecosystem suffers. It is not enough to just produce oilseed rape, even in surplus, and the wheat fields whisper their desperate thirst. The barley meadows dream of better days. Lethargic cows swat at flies that gather at the saline pools of their eyes with whiplike tails, and tick-stricken sheep seek the corners where hedgerows cast short shadows, masticating with urgency. And the worms lie slow-squirming into expiration beneath the noonday sun.’

And what of the crop circles? For Calvert and Redbone, it is their true purpose. The circles themselves part of something more, something hopeful within a warring and dying world.

‘People just want to believe in something bigger than all this. Something beyond. It takes them away from the mundane details of their tiny lives. You can’t blame them.’

No, indeed, you can’t. The Perfect Golden Circle is sublime, it reels you in and caresses you with its poetically beautiful prose. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction and eco-literature. I thought it was divine.

‘Calvert looks at him. He looks at him until it feels like the crops have withered, the seas have risen and the sun has burned itself out to an ashen cinder. He shakes his head. “I do wonder about you sometimes.”’

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy

Published by Bloomsbury Australia

Released 31st May 2022

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