BLOG Gwen Davies

NWR Issue 103

History & Nationhood in Cynan Jones' The Dig

Just read Cynan Jones' The Dig in preparation for NWR's book club podcast recording next week. Have already read the magazine's own review, by Anna Scott, in production for the summer issue but now have also caught up on most of the UK reviews too. So here's my pennyworth to throw into the pool of sparkling, well-deserved but belated UK-level critical praise for Jones, centred mainly on the novella's rural subject matter.

Something deeper than just a plaint about contemporary agrarian society is going on in The Dig. It is at the level of history and nationhood. There are linguistic and geographical references to earlier times, possibly Iron Age or even druidic (the inscription on the shard; the mound ringed by holly where the last badger dig takes place) linking to the Christian image of the ailing lamb akin to sacrifice; also the distorted English tattoo badging (excuse pun!) one of the Midlanders at the final dig scene.

More and more, Cynan Jones reminds me of the Welsh-language bestselling author, Caryl Lewis (Martha, Jac & Sianco, Y Gemydd {The Jeweller}). I've heard Lewis pay homage to Thomas Hardy often, whereas Jones most often cites Cormac Mccarthy. This, along with the fact that only one of Lewis' novels to date has appeared in English, and that Jones' new publisher is the London-based Granta, will explain Lewis' comparative absence of profile in the UK press. Things can change quickly though, and my main point is: we have a lot of very talented prose writers in Wales, especially those writing on rural themes. Why wait for a big UK publisher to name our own exciting upcomers years down the line when we can whisper them right in your ear right now?

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previous blog: Caradoc Evans’ My People as Dance
next blog: ‘Dylan Live’ in Aberystwyth


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