As a Welshman living in London, people like to remind me of their experience of Welsh things. It is a strange state of affairs, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I like the memory of my home away from home, however facile.
Friends tell me supposedly Welsh aspects of their weekend: they ate lamb for dinner, perhaps, or saw some kids playing rugby. The greatest benefit of this system, however, is updates regarding Welsh arts. Folks constantly inform me about Welsh bands and Welsh poets, Welsh movies and Welsh plays, Welsh painters and Welsh writers.
Thus I was introduced to Cynan Jones. A mate of mine came into work one day and said, 'You should read The Dig - it's by a Welsh writer.' Always willing to accept recommendations, I read it that weekend. Reading The Dig is a paradoxical experience: one doesn't wish to continue due to the eerie discomfort, but one equally doesn't wish to put the book down.
I read The Dig in a coffee shop and nipped out for a fag every half an hour or so for a momentary respite. I was trying to quit smoking at the time and I felt Jones was thus responsible for my failure. I needed a break from the reading, but was anxious to continue. Reading The Dig is a recipe for disaster for the would-be ex-smoker.
Cove is a man versus the elements parable - superficially reminiscent of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea - that explores notions of perseverance and self-preservation. The protagonist, unnamed and unknown, takes a kayak to the ocean to spread his father's ashes. He suffers an injury in a storm and is left beaten, bloodied and delusional. He faces a battle with the sea. He knows his existence is necessary, but only due to vague memories of loved ones. These memories serve as a driving force.
One moment towards the end memorably marks this necessity. The unnamed man imagines an apocalypse on land and welcomes the thought, as his death would thus cause no pain: 'There was relief in the idea. That he would not hurt them if they were already gone.' The man shakes this thought, as the stars remind him of his love: 'How she stuck glow-in-the-dark dots to the ceiling of the nursery'.
The purpose of survival is crucial in the story. It raises questions about our effort to exist and the motivations that drive us in moments of hardship. Jones seldom offers answers, but rather leaves the questions hanging.
Rare moments of certainty in Cove are dashed in proceeding sentences. Each supposed answer raises additional questions. Jones provides little to the reader but equivocal statements that we cling to, as if they give us something, which we know they don't. Cove is Beckettian in prose and virtue: removing as much as possible, leaving out even the necessities, and raising questions the reader struggles to grasp. It reminded me of reading Beckett's Molloy and the longing sense of confusion and desperation that followed.
Molloy is my favourite book. Jones is one of my favourite writers. Nothing in life is easy.
I've read all of Jones's fiction and I have witnessed him pushing the limits of this style. In a truly Beckettian sense, Jones is an analyser attempting to leave out as much as possible. Jones's minimalism is welcome, as it places responsibility on the reader. It challenges us to make sense of the world Jones creates. And there is little virtue in success: the point is effort.
Cove is the latest and most accomplished of Jones's works. It once again proves Jones's formidable talent. The book is confusing and demanding and damning and everything and anything and nothing. Above all else, however, Cove is beautiful, all too beautiful.