It’s 1989, and over the course of a blazing Wiltshire summer, a series of mysterious and increasingly complex crop circles appear in the county’s ripening wheat fields. Combining precise geometry and motifs from eastern spirituality and Celtic mythology, they’re soon attracting international attention from the media, UFO enthusiasts, dowsers, exorcists and tourists.
Benjamin Myers’s latest novel, The Perfect Golden Circle, is every bit as idiosyncratic as its subject matter, combining lyricism with comedy and themes that range from warfare and environmental calamity to hope and healing.
It centres on the creators of the crop circles, quintessential odd couple Redbone and Calvert. Like the characters in the author’s previous work, which spans historical fiction and rural noir, and includes the 2021 short story collection Male Tears, these men are outsiders. While Redbone lives in an old camper van, is immersed in the crust punk scene and prone to visions hallucinogenic and otherwise, Calvert is a solitary SAS veteran, battle scarred inwardly as well as outwardly from his service in the Falklands.
Crop circles require meticulous planning. As well as weathering minor inconveniences such as hay fever and rain, the pair must also remain vigilant against interruption. As it turns out, these rural nights are buzzing not just with wildlife but with fly-tippers, confused nonagenarians, and sloshed lords of the manor.
Bathed in moonlight, Myers’s land thrums with more ancient reverberations, too. There is, he writes, “an under-England, a chthonic place of hidden rivers and buried relics, of the bones of extinct animals and battle-slain bodies”. His main characters are acutely aware of it – their industry, it’s hinted, flows from it – and the humbling sense of perspective this confers is balm and inspiration.
Their friendship makes a beguiling counterpoint to the novel’s more epic preoccupations. For their season finale, they’re planning something extra special: the Honeycomb Double Helix, “a web of wonder” that promises to be nearly three times as long as the Palace of Westminster is high.
The novel’s title derives from a conversation between the men. As Redbone explains, there is no such thing as a truly perfect circle, it “can only ever exist as an idea”. Which means, he adds, “that we each carry one within us”.
The notion neatly encapsulates the generosity of Myers’s magnetic novel, which brings together ingredients as diverse as folk song, Gaia theory and trauma, grounding them all in a memorable hymn to beauty.