A never-ending history
Cuddy Benjamin Myers Bloomsbury, £20, pp464 Hephzibah Anderson To order Cuddy for £17.60 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020-3176 3837
Born in the seventh century, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne is the unofficial patron saint of the north, where he’s still known as Cuddy. He began life as a lowly boy shepherd and ended it as a famed religious hermit, holed up on a rocky island off the Northumbrian coast. When Viking raiders arrived, Cuthbert’s body was taken to the mainland by a band of loyal monks, generations of whom traipsed around with it while battles raged until a sign from God told them to stop on a hilltop. There, the settlement that would become Durham sprang up, eventually followed by the towering Norman cathedral that houses his shrine. In the hands of local novelist Benjamin Myers, the afterlife of St Cuthbert’s legend forms the backbone of a hulking, multivolume novel. It makes room for poetry and reams of quotations from diverse sources, as well as prose that adopts the viewpoints of stonemasons and brewers, cooks and academics, making for a vibrant alternative history of the region. At the start is Ediva, a visionprone orphan who is travelling with Cuddy’s coffin and his disciples in the year 995. Several hundred years later, another section imagines the stories that might have shaped the very fabric of the cathedral. Cuddy closes in the class-ridden 21st century with Michael, a 19-yearold labourer, who joins a team repairing a cathedral balustrade while caring for his terminally ill mother. As Michael comes to realise, he too is part of a never-ending history, “one more link in a chain of people… a continuum”. Throughout, that interconnectedness is underscored by homely motifs in the form of apples and stews, and by the gaze of a pair of owl-like eyes. Cuddy, Myers’s eighth novel, is a polyphonic hymn to a very specific landscape and its people. At the same time, it deepens his standing as an arresting chronicler of a broader, more mysterious seam of ancient folklore that unites the history of these isles as it’s rarely taught.