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Cuddy: Winner of the 2023 Goldsmiths Prize

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The pacing, sense of place and period, and the personal stories of its protagonists in Cuddy grip from the beginning and keep a firm hold right through its 400+ pages. Some sections read like non- fiction (literally page after page of direct quotes from reference books), others read like fiction, others like poetry (with floating words and lines mid sentence, italicised stanzas and text getting smaller and larger) and others like pieces of source material with references unusually held within the main body of the text.

Cuthbert was – and is – a figurehead for the North East as he was perhaps the most prominent religious figure in the North to endure down the centuries. The fact that he then inspired an entire community of wandering acolytes strikes me as almost Monty Python-esque.Telling the story of Saint Cuthbert and Durham Cathedral over the period of a thousand years, the author takes full advantage of all styles of writing be it poetry, prose , play script and the use of historical quotations. Incorporating poetry, prose, play, diary and real historical accounts to create a novel like no other, Cuddy straddles historical eras – from the first Christian-slaying Viking invaders of the holy island of Lindisfarne in the 8th century to a contemporary England defined by class and austerity.

Cuddy is told (mainly) in four distinct parts, all written in unique styles and telling a different part of the legend and myth of St Cuthbert over more than 1,000 years in the north of England.The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products.

The fact that I had visited many of the Northumberland settings, including Durham and Lindisfarne, in 2021, gave me a greater than average interest in this book, but I doubt many readers, other than those with a local connection, will have staying power. The AD1827 section felt a bit weaker to me as I read it and I started to think the book might lose a star. The final section is modern day Durham and it’s about a romance between two people in their late teens/early 20’s.Most of all, it's about those who have come before us and how they shape who we are, how we can be guided by the past. I love the differences in language and behaviour that he's captured, along with the changes in the story of how Cuthbert ended up at Durham and why the cathedral was built there. The latter aspects was one of the book’s highlights for me, but the prose poetry it’s weakest element, albeit one that put Cuddy in dialogue with Letty McHugh’s brilliant Barbellion Prize winning The Book of Hours.

To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. When his wife, Eda, meets Francis Rolfe, one of a team of masons engaged in repairing and enhancing Durham Cathedral’s decorative stonework, what occurs will live on in the stone.

Cuddy is a book told through four connected novels, plus an interlude, at different key moments throughout the history of Durham Cathedral and its founding as a home for the relics of St Cuthbert. The symbiosis of poetry and story, of knowledge and deep love, marks out Cuddy as a singular and significant achievement. The middle two parts less so though I did enjoy Myers's take on the 19th century epistolary style (well, diary, not letters). Myers is particularly fascinated by the journey of self-discovery that is the birthright of each person.

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