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The Dig

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,209 ratings  ·  230 reviews
This is a searing short novel, built of the interlocking fates of a badger-baiter and a disconsolate farmer, unfolding in a stark rural setting where man, animal, land and weather are at loggerheads. Their two paths converge with tragic inevitability. Jones writes of the physiology of grief and the isolation of loss with brilliance, and about the simple rawness of animal e ...more
Hardcover, 159 pages
Published January 2nd 2014 by Granta Books
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Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,209 ratings  ·  230 reviews

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Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2017
A stark, uncompromising and poetic novella which documents the hard lives of two solitary men in Welsh sheep country.

Daniel is a sheep farmer, coping alone with lambing after his wife has been killed in an accident. His story is interwoven with that of "the big man", who operates beyond the law as a badger baiter. Both of these stories are told in simple and unsentimental language that retains a beauty and a poetic precision. The two men's paths eventually collide in a brutal conclusion the pre
Doug H
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A modern classic. Pared to the essentials. Dark and poetic. If I were teaching a course in literature, I would include this novel in my syllabus. It's all here: symbolism, foreshadowing, mythological archetypes, allegory. It's a brutal and depressing tale (more so than anything I've read in recent memory), but it is deepened and lifted beyond mere horror by the author's firm control and underlying sensitivity and the karmic retribution in the epilogue delivers the final stroke. Genius. ...more
João Reis
Don't need this bullshit in my life.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Haunting story about farming in Wales. It's not hard imagining the scenery. It's about life and death and survival. ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was totally entranced by this book. Brutal, haunting, beautiful.
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
wonderful. A Welsh Cormac McCarthy.

Jones has a firm but poetic grip on his narrative, which follows the (mis)fortunes of a grieving farmer and a badger-baiter in an isolated part of Wales. Life and death are unsentimentally portrayed, grass, sheep, dogs, rats, humans all treated the same really; although it is impossible not to empathise with Daniel, the farmer as he struggles to keep up with his chores and thinks of his wife. Even the brutal badger baiter evinces sympathy (from me anyway) in t
Alice (Married To Books)
I'm definitely in the minority here by saying that The Dig fell a little underwhelming, but also quite violent too. Told from multiple POVs, we have a farmer mourning the loss of his wife and another man who is involved in the act of badger-baiting. Towards the end of the book, both of them come together in shocking circumstances. It's a real dog eat dog kind of situation. Yet even though the story layout was clear and easy to read, I really struggled to determine what was going on with the char ...more
Kirk Smith
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dougs-top-picks
This is such a strange story and with such startling contrasts. Love loss and tenderness, Pursuit abuse and savagery. Fragile births and horrible endings. A true pastoral (shepherding is a third of the story) delivered in sparse elegiac prose. So beautifully abbreviated it becomes more by its simplicity and surely harbors deeper meanings. What does it say when the instinctual savagery at our core must be abandoned in order to evolve? Will we be more or will we be less prepared for our future? I ...more
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not my favorite by the author but a very worthy read. More plot driven then the other two I have read. A little more violent than the past reads of his. I will say his descriptions of lambing are spot on. Don’t even begin to think cute and cuddly. I had a learning curve on one aspect of the plot and I’m not sure I completely understood. Started with Cove, next The Long Dry and finished with The Dig. To me this was the perfect sequence. The Long Dry my favorite.
Moira Macfarlane
It's a tender and brutal story, harsh. Cynan Jones writes the most intense short novels and has a naturalistic writing style, never romanticising life, but there is passion in the way he describes the landscape with it's colours, textures and scents. I slow my pace, feel spellbound, his writing resonates. 
I've read Cove too and am pretty sure I want to read his other books as well.

"The scent of her was in the room and it almost choked him to understand how vital to him this was; how he could
Robert Williams
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, very bleak but strangely poetic. Horrible scenes of badger baiting juxtaposed with the grief and loneliness of a welsh sheep farmer. A compelling story by a Welsh writer and I will look out for his others.
Gosh, I do love me some Cynan. He never wastes a word. Simultaneously masculine and tender, the strong, dark imagery absolutely gutted me. It's a violent, unforgiving novel that is not for the weak of stomach. If you can push through the animal brutality, you'll be rewarded with a book about survival and territory and making your last stand. ...more
Justin Griffiths-Bell
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful book by a class writer with a pitch-perfect ear for the sound of the language.

Revolving around twin narratives, it is a study of loss and isolation, focusing on two characters, each a counterpoint to the other; one, a farmer, a brooding thinker, lost and cut adrift, becoming dimly aware of the world shutting off before him; the other, a rat-catcher and badger baiter, a perennial stranger, brooding still more darkly, disconnected. Each suffers apart in a way that’s entirely di
Poetically brutal. This is such a masculine landscape where the lines between animal and people blur, where pain and grief simply get ground into the pulp that is daily survival. One man attempts to nurture animal life while dealing with human death. The other seems to foster animal death, which seems like such a savage way of life. Rich. Visceral. At times, throat-closing. Jones weaves a fascinatingly touching story while simultaneously repelling the reader with scenes of such stark violence. D ...more
Daniel is a recently widowed farmer in rural Wales. On his own for the challenges of lambing, he hates who he’s become. “She would not have liked this anger in me. I was not an angry man.” In the meantime, a badger-baiter worries the police are getting wise to his nocturnal misdemeanors and looks for a new, remote locale to dig for badgers. I kept waiting for these two story lines to meet explosively, but instead they just fizzle out. I should have been prepared for the animal cruelty I’d encoun ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Visceral. Violent. Compelling. Those are the first three words that spring to mind when I think of Cynan Jones’ The Dig, a muscular little novel that is so powerful as to be Herculean.

Set in a Welsh farming community, it could be described as a “rural novel”, but it’s not the bucolic countryside so often depicted in literature. This is nature red in tooth and claw. It feels earthy, rough, rugged — and realistic. Anyone who’s grown up on a farm or in a farming community will recognise the life an
Jun 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2014
I should say up front that this is not a book I would have ever chosen to read - I had to do so for my book group - and as in the book group, so it is here, in that I am very much in the minority in my reaction to it.

I did think it was a very effective and moving portrait of loss and isolation, and that is a genuine achievement. However, the violence and animal cruelty described in the scenes with the Big Man were so unpleasant and, to my mind at least, so completely unnecessary that they totall
Kris McCracken
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant, if immensely troubling, short novel that explores the interior lives of two very different men. One, a grieving farmer struggling for the survival of his farm in lambing season, and the other an unnamed badger baiter, who exists seemingly to torture animals for the entertainment of others.

The two lonely men live close to each other in remote Wales, and it is clear from the bleak and foreboding beginning of the book that their lives are set on a collision course that cannot possibly
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cynan Jones can do no wrong. Seriously, no-one can write like him - and nobody can write about Wales and the countryside (and the people who live there) like he can.

The Dig focuses on two different men - a (view spoiler) farmer and a badger-baiter. The farmer realises the badger-baiter is on his land, and things go from there. The novel is pretty short so that to reveal much else would get into spoiler territory.

Don't misunderstand when I say that Jones writes about the
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With the badger culls still in the news this feels topical, however it isn't that which makes this such a dramatic and moving book. This is rural Wales with all the romance sucked out of it, leaving only the dirt, blood and harsh reality. The story maybe short but that doesn't prevent it having an impact as the reader is drawn into the lives of Daniel, the grieving sheep farmer, and Ag the badger baiter. I defy anyone with an ounce of empathy to read this book without being moved by the depictio ...more
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
“He believed by this point that the badger deserved it.”

This is a gut-punch of a read, but massively inspiring to the writer in me. Cynan Jones’ prose is stunning—filled with passages of uncomfortable but simple and meticulous truth. The story is rich and thought-provoking, and explores our relationships with our past, our surroundings, our loved-ones, and the animals we share this life with. Disturbing, but so worth it.
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gothic, bought-2014
A brutal, visceral and excruciating read, but deeply beautiful and moving. Daniel is a Welsh sheep farmer who has lost his wife; another nameless man is digging for badgers in his woods, baiting them with dogs for the entertainment of other cruel men. Their worlds converge, symbolically and actually, with violence and grief. Highly recommended, and easy to read in a single sitting.
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(4.5 Stars)

A haunting, deeply moving book about death, grief, brutality and compassion – beautifully expressed in spare, poetic prose.

Like the Myers, The Dig is rooted in the countryside. However, this is a very different kind of place to the one portrayed in The Offing. Here the environment is tough, feral and visceral; a setting characterised by the undercurrent of cruelty in the natural world.

Recently widowed Daniel is a sheep farmer, struggling to keep on top of the lambing season deep in r
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A book about a recently widowed sheep farmer and a man who has a shady (to say the least) way of living. Eventually their destinies cross with startling results.

Yes this is a cliched summary but really if I do go into more detail I'll spoil everything. While reading this brief novel, a lot of comparisons came into my head. There's the cruel aspect one finds in Evie Wyld's All the Bird's Singing, some of J.M Coetzee's Disgrace and even the Roald Dahl and some of Magnus Mills. Really though The D
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is both heartbreaking and enraging. Daniel, the farmer who's young wife recently died from being kicked in the head by a horse, is using the mind numbing work of the farm during lambing season to keep himself going as he struggles with despair. Big Man hunts badgers that he captures alive and takes to be used for sport by men who seem to be aroused by violence.
In the "sport" a badger is placed in a pit and attacked by dogs. The author's way of describing what was occurring in the stor
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british, welsh
Brutal, visceral, utterly devoid of sentimentality, this intertwining tale of a badger baiter and a recently widowed farmer is a bleak and unsparing look at contemporary rural existence. Life and death are neatly juxtaposed as the two narratives both echo and contrast each other. Even in its bloodiest moments this short novel is nonetheless marked by a deep feeling for nature and the countryside, and is infused with a poetry ("long-decayed bouquets"; "the rush of thrushes") that gives it an almo ...more
Jonathan Maas
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A powerful book, with a powerful representation of farming life

This book punches you in the midsection. Are there twists? Not really. Is there a punchy plot? Somewhat. Are there characters that represents the extremes of good and evil? Not at all.

And yet - it holds the power of a horror book, or an intense thriller. Why? The writing hits you like a punch in the midsection. Bare bones farming in the cold, and you can feel the British wind stripping your face of warmth.

It's not long, it doesn't ha
Craig Wallwork
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
More like prose poetry, it took me a few pages to find the rhythm, but once in the flow of it you feel like you’re floating along a stream, slowly sinking into the cold waters, bitterly cold waters, and to gasp or struggle would only make it worse, so you just go with it, you sink, and under the waters you find Daniel, a man drenched in misery and guilt. And there he tells you his story, and no matter how much you try and catch your breath, you can’t, because you’re weighted down too, anchored b ...more
Samuel Bigglesworth
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another writer from my writing group recommended this.

I didn't know what to expect, but it was really good. The writing is excellent, all details carefully picked, not a word wasted.

There is a golden thread of truth about the nature of life running through it, which I believe is important for all books!

There are some similarities to Cormac McCarthy and Hemingway in the writing style.

It felt like the writer has lived and breathed the rural Welsh communities and characters he was writing about.
Warning for graphic descriptions of animal cruelty. I did think Daniel's chapters were effective in describing (slight spoiler) (view spoiler). With a greater focus on Daniel's story I may have ended up liking the whole novel a lot more. Unfortunately, the "Big Man's" chapters were so deeply unpleasant and took up such a huge amount of pages for such a short book that I really can't see past it. There were other graphic scenes in Daniel's sections as well, but ...more
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The Dig 1 2 Aug 28, 2019 02:34AM  
21st Century Lite...: The Dig - Whole book (Spoilers allowed) (July 2017) 43 52 Jul 31, 2017 01:16PM  
21st Century Lite...: The Dig - General Discussion (No spoilers) (July 2017) 21 42 Jul 13, 2017 07:44AM  

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Cynan Jones was born in 1975 near Aberaeron, Wales where he now lives and works.

He is the author of five short novels, The Long Dry, Everything I Found on the Beach, Bird, Blood, Snow, The Dig, and Cove.

He has been longlisted and shortlisted for numerous international prizes and won a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award (2007), a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize (2014), the Wales Book of the Year

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