Badger baiting, death, farming: The Dig by Cynan Jones concerns itself with earthly matters. Having perfected his craft through writing children stories, Jones’ first gained notice with his first novel, The Long Dry (2006). The Dig reaps the rewards of Jones’ polished craftsmanship with tight, sparse and poetic prose in which no word goes unconsidered. In spite of all this, The Dig was nearly dissected after a lackluster reception from his publisher, only to be revived after Jones sent off a segment of it to Granta in the form of a short story. This story then went on to be shortlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Award, the biggest reward for short fiction (currently) in existence. From this serendipitous happening arose this novel.
Centered around a farming community, The Dig accumulates its explosive power through the poetic resonance it builds between its various characters and subjects. It is a novel which moves effortlessly between the minds of young and old, memory and the moment. The novel finds both the isolation of the individual and the similarities between the masses – both human and animal – through implication rather than statement. It is stark and barbaric at times, but the form is perfectly matched to content, subtly weaving its multitudinous strands together before reaching a conclusion which continues to provoke awe even days after reading.
The Dig feels like reading something Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy might produce if they were Welsh rather than American: Jones’ writing carries their same epic quality where carefully observed moments about shoes or mink pelts take on the tinge of the universal. In a talk at St Anne’s last year, Jones spoke of his concern that writing should be about death and the grit of life above all else. This focus on the raw could perhaps be said to be driving force behind this unsentimental but brilliantly realised novel. The ‘dig’ of this novel is far more than literal: Cynan Jones mines well known themes with a unique voice and fresh perspective. The Dig is worth a read: there’s a lot down the badger hole worth exploring.