The Dig (Paperback)
Green Apple interview with Cynan Jones
GAB: Badgers are surprisingly not much written about in literature. Did you know this when you started The Dig? What drew you to them?
CJ: Actually, in the UK badgers hold quite a visible position in literature. John Clare's famous poem, written in the early 1800s, presents a striking account of a badger captured for baiting; and children's literature throws up a number of anthropomorphised, English-speaking characters - the '“wise hermit” who “simply hates society” in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows; Beatrix Potter's rogueish Tommy Brock; Old Brock in Richard Adams' Watership Down; Badger, best friend of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. These characters are not always pleasant, but as real badgers are rarely seen alive, have a lot to do with the image of the badger in public consciousness.
What drew me to the animal when I wrote The Dig was the allegory it provided. I wanted to write about the way we try to create a safe place for ourselves and the things we care about, and how a force can break into that space. The badger, its sett, and the fact it has been long subject to a tradition of persecution fitted the story perfectly.
Your bio states that you are a "writer of short novels." What led you to identify as such?
Writing is about rule setting, the story itself being the key thing that sets those rules. The stories I am compelled to work on tend to be up close, physical and intense. With that, they demand an intensity of form. That requires, in the writing, that things must be implied rather than digressed amongst, that events have a centrifugal pull on the reader. There is no room for extra luggage. I like that, and the demands it places on me to pack in only the necessary things.
The Dig has already earned you comparisons to Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. Do you identify with a particular tradition?
It's other people's place to make comparisons and links. The only important thing for me is to write as well as I can.
I tend to write about men getting through things, often physically, and that is in line with characters that authors like Steinbeck, McCarthy and Hemingway write about. I read all sorts of writing, and enjoy the chance to write a different way from the way you'll see most prominently in the novels. But, referring to my answer above, the story sets the rules. In the case of the stories I usually tell, the demand is to be direct, accurate and strong. That's perhaps why people link me with certain writers over others; but I've a long way to go to earn a place on the shelf with them.
Is there anything you think American readers should know about the tradition of badger-baiting or the Welsh countryside to help contextualize the novel?
Hopefully the novel stands on its own feet as a story about people and is effective without close knowledge of its setting. The aim is to provoke readers to want to know more about that without distracting from the action of the book.
There's a great deal to say, however, about the wider world of the story. I've recently written a piece for LitHub. It's a brief insight into badgers and badger baiting in the UK.
In terms of the countryside, it's important to recognise how divers and localised the landscape of Wales is. The setting here is not the deep valleys of the South, nor the dramatic mountain backdrop of the North. It's essentially gentler, a landscape you can get close to. For a wider sense of the place, read my other novels The Long Dry and Everything I Found on the Beach, forthcoming from Coffee House next year.
More than the novelty of reading about badgers, I found your greatest accomplishment in The Dig to rest in its emotional power. This is a profoundly affecting work about grief and love. Can you talk a little about how love (of a person, a landscape) lights Daniel's way?
I've been around people who talk a lot about love and make sure they frequently acknowledge the things they love, verbally and demonstratively. I've also been around people who love a thing deeply without really taking that on board; a thing is so deeply ingrained in them, they are so deeply ingrained in it, that they don't articulate the relationship as love. That's Daniel's state, with the farm and his wife. What he faces is equivalent to the ground disappearing. He's drifting in grief. Love and landscape are less a light here, and more a life raft. The question is, does he have the strength to hang on?— Apple-a-Month Club
"Jones's sense of place is acute, and his passion for the landscape--for its colors, its creatures, its textures, its scents--is absolutely magnetic."--Sarah Waters
"A dark, tense, and vital short novel. . . . Profound, powerful, and utterly absorbing."--The Guardian
"It is a book about the essentials: life and death, cruelty and compassion. It is a book that will get in your bones, and haunt you."--Daily Telegraph
"Cynan Jones's fourth novel, The Dig, is an extraordinarily powerful work--not in spite of its brevity but because of it. . . . In its marriage of profound lyricism and feeling for place, deep human compassion and unflinching savagery, this brief and beautiful novel is utterly unique."--Financial Times
Built of the interlocking fates of a badger-baiter and a farmer struggling through lambing season, The Dig unfolds in a stark rural setting where man, animal, and land are at loggerheads. There is no bucolic pastoral here: this is pure, pared-down rural realism, crackling with compressed energy, from a writer of uncommon gifts.
Cynan Jones was born near Aberaeron, Wales, in 1975. He is the author of three novels, The Long Dry (winner of a Betty Trask Award, 2007), Everything I Found on the Beach (2011), and The Dig (2014), winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. He is also the author of Bird, Blood, Snow (2012), the retelling of a medieval Welsh myth. The Dig is his first novel published in the United States.
About the Author
Cynan Jones was born near Aberaeron, Wales in 1975. He is the author of three novels, The Long Dry (winner of a Betty Trask Award, 2007), Everything I Found on the Beach (2011), and The Dig (2014), winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. He is also the author of Bird, Blood, Snow(2012), the retelling of a medieval Welsh myth. The Dig is his first novel published in the U.S.