READER ADVISORY - CONTROVERSIAL WITH SCENES OF ANIMAL CRUELTY SOME MIGHT FIND DISTRESSING
Here is nature writing at it's most sinister
The Dig tells the tale of Daniel, a Welsh farmer, whose days are spent birthing lambs, patrolling his farm and trying not to see the wife he lost in all it’s dark and nostalgic corners.
Holding onto his deep affinity with the land he is reluctant to have ‘The Shard’ removed from it’s imposing position overlooking his fields. No one knows what ‘The Shard’ is, only that it is big, metal and has been there for a very long time. It’s removal triggers a series of bad luck and ill omens for the farmer as a portent of doom is unleashed on his humble farm from two headed lambs to the arrival of a very sinister stranger.
The sinister newcomer is Daniels doppelgänger. Where Daniel is practical and procedural, this intruder is cruel, unsentimental and ambitious, setting his calculating eye on Daniels farm. On the far edge is a badgers sett and a lucrative ‘Dig' to be made.
A ‘dig’ is a term used for the illegal activity of badgering. Dogs are sent into the sett to corner the badger whilst farmers dig from above to cordon off the trapped animal. Cynan Jones describes the dig so utterly blunt and unfurnished in it’s process so we can understand the lack of concience present in the act.
The story enters straight into a very gruesome account of a recent badger killing which the doppelgänger and his dogs carried out the night before. Cold and violent, this book gives early warning that it will be an emotionally challenging read with scenes of animal cruelty throughout. Jones is unapologetic in letting us know the realities of working with animals, nature and other loved ones on a farm in rural Wales.
In tender contrast are the memories and flashbacks of Daniels late wife. Still in love with her, and unable to move on Daniel must somehow deal with the painful process of letting go. You get the sense that he has lost all joy in his work since her death and the fading in and out of his memories of his wife are perfectly timed and very beautiful.
The most satisfying moment of the story comes right at the very last page. Jones, like McCarthy, is able to keep a tight rope of tension running throughout every page, you just know that rope is going to eventually snap.
This story is as terribly powerful as it is short.
Reviewed by Christine Cafun for Chapter One Books