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West

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When Cy Bellman, American settler and widowed father of Bess, reads in the newspaper that huge ancient bones have been discovered in a Kentucky swamp, he leaves his small Pennsylvania farm and young daughter to find out if the rumours are true: that the giant monsters are still alive, and roam the uncharted wilderness beyond the Mississippi River.

West is the story of Bellman's journey and of Bess, waiting at home for her father to return. Written with compassionate tenderness and magical thinking, it explores the courage of conviction, the transformative power of grief, the desire for knowledge and the pull of home, from an exceptionally talented and original British writer. It is a radiant and timeless epic-in-miniature, an eerie, electric monument to possibility.

160 pages, Hardcover

First published April 24, 2018

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About the author

Carys Davies

18 books241 followers
Carys Davies's debut novel, West, was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, runner-up for the McKitterick Prize, and winner of the Wales Book of the Year for Fiction. Her second novel, The Mission House, was first published in the UK in 2020 where it was The Sunday Times Novel of the Year.

She is also the author of two collections of short stories, Some New Ambush and The Redemption of Galen Pike, which won the 2015 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. She is the recipient of the Royal Society of Literature's V.S. Pritchett Prize, the Society of Authors' Olive Cook Short Story Award, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, and is a member of the Folio Academy. Her fiction has been translated into nine languages.

Born in Wales, she grew up there and in the Midlands, lived and worked for twelve years in New York and Chicago, and now lives in Edinburgh.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 740 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
692 reviews3,242 followers
June 18, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.



Cy Bellman reads of monstrous bones discovered in the Kentucky mud and is compelled to leave his Pennsylvania farm on horseback to behold the mammoth creatures with his own eyes. Though his journey is recounted briefly, and the few pages of this slim novel must be shared with Bellman’s ten-year-old daughter and a Shawnee boy, Davies weaves a story both perilous and impassioned, one that grips you to the final page and exudes the eminence of a legendary tale.

Highly recommend this riveting read in which heroes take unexpected form and hope glimmers on the horizon.
Profile Image for Angela M (On a little break).
1,270 reviews2,217 followers
March 1, 2018
4.5 stars.

Inspired by Lewis and Clark’s expedition in the early 19th century, ten years later Cy Bellman, a grieving widower, leaves Pennsylvania and his 10 year old daughter Bess on an expedition to the West, on a quest for the huge animals that he thought might exist when he learns that large fossils have been found. What would possess a man to leave his young daughter with his sister alone on his mule breeding farm was beyond my imagination. For Cy it was a calling : “ I have to go. I have to go and see. That’s all I can tell you . I have to.” He read an article with “no illustrations , but in his mind ...the monstrous bones, the prodigious tusks, uncovered where they lay ...A creature entirely unknown.” So he sets out alone bearing gifts and trinkets for any Native Americans he might meet along the way. He connects with a young Swanee boy, an unforgettable character and together they trek across thousands of miles, through brutal winters and harsh conditions.

The narrative alternatives between Bellman’s journey and Bess’s perspective as she waits for her father to return. She’s a lonely girl without friends who goes to the library to learn what she can about her father’s quest. All the while facing danger herself. This novella is filled with so many emotions - sadness, grief, loneliness, regret, hope. In its brevity, it tells a sad, yet captivating and satisfying story. Well written and I highly recommend it.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Scribner through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews709 followers
December 8, 2019
The compass the fur trader had given him he had no use for because he had the music of the river and the bright configuration of the stars, but he carried it in his hand because he liked it for its beauty and the suspicion that it had some secret power of its own the fur trader wasn't telling him about; that it was alive in some way. He liked the way the tiny needle quivered beneath the clear covering, like his own heart when he was out stalking or waiting with a hook for a fish to bite....

Small novel of American historical fiction, about a father, American settler and widowed father, who leaves his young daughter for one year or even more to find weird (prehistoric) animals seeming still alive out there in the wilderness. A weird little story of a man and a young Indian plowing their way through heat and cold and the wilderness in search of these wondrous creatures. The daughter stays at home with a rather grumpy aunt and a help who, as it turns out, is not entirely reliable. Very cleanly, soberly, poetically and beautifully written, quite worthwhile although I did find the story just a tad slow here and there. However the poetry of the writing is beautiful, see quote above. The ending for sure isn't slow, the book ends with a bang and a great one. Yes, recommended, this little American gem of literature.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
May 6, 2018
From Pennsylvania to Kentucky, that is the goal of Bellman after reading in newspapers the discovery of some huge bones from an animal never seen before.A widower, he leaves his ten year old daughter in the care of his taciturn sister, planning to be gone two years or so. Hiring a young Indian boy with the stange name Old woman from a distance, he sets out into unknown territory. Bess,tries to follow her father's journey n maps she located in the library. While Bellman finds dangers in the cold, harsh winters with it's lack of food, his daughter encounters danger of a different kind.

Man's curiousity, and the quest to find something larger than ones own life has been the basis for many adventurers and explorers. This novel is gorgeously told, the wonderful and the characters ters treated with a great deal of empathy. A short story that contains much, a story filled with both wonder and danger. As Bellman thinks to himself, trying to explain his willingness to leave his daughter and his home

"Now he wondered if it was because it seemed possible that, through the giant animals,a door into the mystery of the world would somehow be opened. There were times,out here in the west, when he lay down at night and, wrapped in his coat, he'd look up at the sky, it's wash of stars, gaze up at the bright, broken face of the moon and wonder what might be up there too,---what he'd find if he could just decide a way of getting up there to look."

There are some great descriptions of the natural world he encounters, and a yearning in his thoughts to be more, see more. Another quiet story that encompasses the feelings of those who leave and those who stay behind.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,686 reviews2,242 followers
March 7, 2018
4.5 “Pre-Light-Pollution” Stars

“I dip my cup of soup back from a gurgling crackling cauldron in some train yard
My beard ruff and then a cold pile and a
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands, 'round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're wavin' from the back roads
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind”

-- Gentle on My Mind, Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Songwriters: John Hartford

When John Cyrus Bellman first read about the giant bones that had been discovered in Kentucky, he could not stop thinking about them, about the discovery and what it meant that these giant animal bones existed, also meant these creatures had walked the earth of Kentucky. Perhaps others were still walking in those undiscovered places in this still young country, it’s vastness still unexplored in this age. He had to see with his own eyes.

Bellman was a big man, tall and broad that stood out even more for his red hair and a substantial beard whose colour was a slightly deeper shade. That he made his living by breeding mules seemed to fit him.

His daughter, Bess, was ten years old the day he left on his horse, and as he explains to her and to his sister who will now be in charge of watching over Bess, he will be gone at least a year, possibly two years. Neither Bess nor Julie, her aunt, had predicted this long a trip, thinking in terms of months, not years. Bess immediately thinks of the fact that in two years, she will be twelve. A long time, especially, for a girl who has already lost her mother.

Her aunt thinks her father is a fool, but Bess sees him as brave and resolute, a man with a purpose. A grand adventure awaits him. She only wishes he had taken her, as well.

And so he leaves his home of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and follows the path he’s studied in the library books and their maps. He doesn’t carry much, some baubles and trinkets to exchange for food with the natives he’s assured he’ll meet along the way. A shirt of his deceased wife, a thimble, some knitting needles, and begins his journey, heading toward the Missouri River to follow its path, and the journey of Lewis and Clark. Every now and then he meets someone along the road and sketches an outline of his imagined view of how these giant beasts might look in the dirt, gesturing toward the trees to indicate their size and asking if they’ve seen these gigantic creatures, but no one has.

A smallish seventeen year-old Shawnee, slightly bowlegged young man named Old Woman From A Distance,” becomes Bellman’s paid assistant and companion, and together they take the reader on a journey through a way of life that no longer exists.

I loved this, I loved the slow pacing of this journey, the ins and outs of the days, even when their days held no discovery, and when they were fraught with peril. I loved this journey in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark’s expedition, and re-setting my mind into an era so far removed from the one we live in. I loved reading the alternate sides of this story, where Bellman and Old Woman From a Distance were struggling along their journey under rough conditions, and Bess struggling under her own circumstances as time passes. And I loved the little things, such as when Old Woman sees the writing of Bess's name in a letter from her father, he sees them as the shapes he finds in nature: "...the sideways hills, the half-closed eyes, the two small, wriggling snakes." I loved Bess, hoped and prayed alongside her as she hopes and prays for her father’s return, left in the care of a woman whose only concern is for her own life.

Beautifully written, this is a lovely, poignant, “slender” debut novel set in the American frontier, a time of exploration, an era filled with dangers of its own, wilderness, isolation, ignorance, hostile surroundings and the dangers - and beauty - found in this world.

Pub Date: 24 Apr 2018


Many thanks for the ARC provided by Scribner Books / Simon & Schuster
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,054 reviews30k followers
April 22, 2018
5 Wild, Wild West stars to West by Carys Davies! 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

This bold, unforgettable story is short on pages, but huge on impact! I’m going to try my best to keep my review brief, too, so I leave the reader to explore from scratch this marvelous adventure in storytelling.

Cy Bellman leaves his home and young daughter in Pennsylvania to head west. Told in his perspective, as well as his daughter’s, West is full of emotion, heart, adventure, danger, hope, and wonder.

It was a book I devoured in one sitting, and I was left feeling completely transported to a different time and place with flawless writing and flawed, but lovable characters. It gets my highest recommendation and is a most huggable book.

Thank you to Carys Davies (please keep writing!), Scribner, and Edelweiss for the ARC. West will be released on April 24, 2018!
Profile Image for Karen.
552 reviews1,082 followers
April 10, 2018
4.5
In the early 19th century, a restless widower named Cy Bellman leaves his farm and ten year old daughter in the care of his sister and heads from Pennsylvania out WEST, in search of mammoth animals that he has read about, it’s a need that consumes him.
The story of his journey and also that of his daughter while he is gone is a rough one and filled with much loneliness and grief.
I loved it!

Thank you to Scribner through Edelweiss!
Profile Image for Fran (apologies...way behind).
620 reviews564 followers
April 13, 2018
John Cyrus Bellman had an adventurous spirit. Having left Britain, he became a mule breeder in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Bellman, a widower, lived with his ten year old daughter Bess. Bellman's so called hum drum existence was kicked up a notch when he read about colossal animal bones discovered in Kentucky. In the early nineteenth century, a journey of discovery was a monumental undertaking, one that he welcomed.

Bellman perused the journals of Lewis and Clark in the local subscription library noting unexplored areas. He planned to follow the Missouri River while taking side trips to check out some uncharted regions. He bought a stovepipe hat thinking that the tall hat would make him appear powerful and imposing. His only companion was a hired guide, a suspicious seventeen year old Shawnee boy named Old Woman from a Distance.

Ten year old Bess must fend for herself. Her tight-lipped, bible toting Aunt Julie will be her caregiver for the duration of Bellman's absence. Bess is not allowed to attend school and must fight tooth and nail to be allowed to visit the subscription library in order to view maps and journals enabling her to imagine and envision her father's journey west. An unsavory, leering librarian waives her subscription fee.

Enthusiasm and obsession with finding large animal fossils drives Bellman's journey. The stark, beautiful landscape is challenging. Equally challenged is Bess, trying to navigate her life after being left with an unfriendly, judgmental aunt. "West" by Carys Davies is an excellent, amazing debut novel I highly recommend.

Thank you Scribner and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "West".
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
April 28, 2018
A high 4 stars

Carys Davies writes beautifully in simple and precise prose. It was a pleasure to read West for that reason alone. West is very short — barely a novel, really — but it conveys a lot. Set many years back in the US, Cy who is a widower leaves his daughter Bess in the care of his sister to seek out giant mammoth like creatures he has recently read about. It’s a fool’s journey. West feels like an allegory about the unintended consequences of foolish journeys. Heartbreak, missed messages, regrets and, despite everything, the need to carry on. I will definitely read more by Davies. She is quite a writer. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,366 reviews786 followers
April 7, 2019
2.5 to 3★
“Bellman loved this story, felt strengthened by it—the notion that whatever your own idea of the known world, there were always things outside it you hadn’t dreamed of.”


John Cyrus Bellman has a compulsion to go West to seek the big creatures he’s heard about in the news. He was captivated by the Lewis and Clark expedition and feels drawn to follow. He’s a farmer in the 1800s, a widower for many years with a ten-year-old daughter, Bess. The book opens with her begging her father not to leave her home alone with his sister, whom she doesn’t like very much.

Bellman makes sympathetic noises and says he’ll be gone ‘only’ a year or so – two at the most. He is obsessed with his trip, pores over maps, explains to Bess and Julie where he’s going (west) and what he’s taking (trinkets) and what he hopes to finally find (dinosaurs). Well WE know they are dinosaur bones, but he just knows them as gigantic creatures. We don’t really know why he’s obsessed either.

He has rather casually informed his sister that she is to move into their house, on their farm, to look after Bess and the livestock. Elmer next door has been told to look in on them to help. Bellman tells Bess and his sister that if they must have cash, they can sell his wife’s wedding ring and the family clock on the wall. (At a later point in the book, Bess realises she can’t sell the clock without her aunt noticing it’s missing, but that’s just one of her many frustrations.)

The story weaves back and forth between Bellman on his journey of discovery and Beth growing up bored and lonely in a small town. She discovers the library because she wants to trace her father’s steps on a map, but the librarian is an unsavoury fellow.

Bellman meets up with a teenaged Indian, who acts as a guide, despite their having no common language. Bellman is fanciful in the extreme, and had the Indian not been a competent hunter, they would both have starved early in the piece.

There are some nice passages, and I believe the author has written good short stories. I might have enjoyed small sections of this in some sort of story form, but it seemed like an idea that was being padded out with a lot of generic western trapper-trader-explorer stories, and some didn’t ring true for me.

My mother was a real Lewis and Clark aficionado and also collected ‘mountain man’ books, so I did grow up hearing about them. And I never heard of gorse before I went to New Zealand, so to have Bellman and the Indian throwing their clothes over gorse bushes to dry sounded odd, so I looked it up.

It seems gorse was brought from Europe to the east coast of America as a garden hedging plant in the 1800s, but only to the coasts. I haven’t found anything to suggest it was anywhere near where our wild-eyed adventurer was. That’s just one particular example of the many places in the story that were either inaccurate, inconsistent, or unlikely, so I nearly didn’t finish it.

But when it was appropriate, I enjoyed the author’s imagination. Desperate for her father to come home, Bess thinks of him every day and night.

“In the darkness and the quiet Bess could hear the ticking of the wall clock. When she closed her eyes she still saw a picture of what the clock looked like after her father had ridden away—when she’d turned at last to go back into the house, it had its arms flung out across its big round face, one pointing one way and one in the opposite direction, as if one hand was pointing west and the other east. In daylight, there was a different time she liked more than any other and she did everything she could to be in the house when it arrived: the time when the bigger of the two hands crept slowly through the 12 until it joined the smaller one, both of them pointing east.”

Thanks to NetGalley and Granta Publications for the copy for review from which I’ve quoted. I’m sure a reader who's less of a fuss-pot will enjoy the characters and the premise. Meanwhile, maybe an editor might fix the inconsistencies in tenses, as well.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,218 reviews512 followers
April 30, 2018
This short novel, provides a detailed picture of a moment in time, early in the 19th century, as the United States is a nation on the edge of wilderness, beginning to push further into that unknown area. John Cyrus Bellman, of Pennsylvania, becomes enraptured by a story he sees at the town subscription library. Large bones, including apparent tusks, have been unearthed in Kentucky. Cyrus is a dreamer; he has already left England for America. Now he has a new dream: to see these enormous living creatures for himself. And where would they be? In the West, most of which remains largely unknown to Americans. Only the Indians live out there.

To live this dream, Cyrus must leave his 10 year old daughter, Bess, behind, in the care of his disapproving sister, Julie, for possibly two years. In his obsession with his goal, two years of his daughter's life is an insignificant cost.

The details of life in the town, on the mule ranch with Bess and Julie and the hired hand, and on the long journey with Bellman all strike a realistic chord. The various people in all the settings are a realistic combination of good and bad, caring and uncaring. The story alternates viewpoints among Bess, her father, the hired hand, Julie, occasional people Bellman meets on the trail. And while I did anticipate a part of the ending, I did not guess it all. While there are some coincidences within the story's structure and possible hints of forward thinking, I found them easy to forgive. For the most part this novel seems rooted in its time.

West is an interesting look into the American past and into the spirit of the dreamers and explorers who still search today for new places and creatures, but now look deep in the oceans or beyond our world altogether.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,888 followers
May 30, 2019
Real Rating: 3.9* of five

A lovely little book, a slip of a thing that has the gravitas of a far longer book in a far more concentrated and sharp novella.

I can't blame anyone for finding the story sad, it surely is; but with an ending so deeply felt and so beautifully wrought that the most size-conscious reader can't come away feeling gypped. Old Woman from a Distance, the teenaged Shawnee surivior of the Trail of Tears, is a beautifully rendered portrait of The Survivor; Bellman, the red-bearded widowed dreamer, is the portrait of The Fool. Deveraux the French fur trader and Aunt Julie Bellman are sides of the coin that shifty neighbor Elmer and faithless frontiersman Hollinghurst steal with simple, transparent tricks. I knew I'd loathe Aunt Julie on p23:
After a month {Bess} asked her Aunt Julie if they could go to the library so she could look at the big journals of the President's Expedition and see the path her father had taken into the west, but Aunt Julie only looked at her in a kind of irritated amazement.
"And when, child," Bellman's sister demanded to know, "do you suppose I have time to sit in a library?"

Yeah, no. We ain't a-gonna be book-besties, me'n'Julie, no way no how. Nor does Bess, Bellman's amazing daughter, find much to love in her father's sister:
Aunt Julie said what a pretty girl Dorothy had turned into and she wouldn't be surprised if Sidney {a rich-but-loutish boy Bess told off some time ago} and Dorothy weren't a married pair a few years from now. What did Bess think of that?
Bess said she thought nothing of it. Bess said that was the last thing in the world she'd think of thinking about.

Aunt Julie in a nutshell; Bess to the teeth an anti-Julie like anti-matter is to baryonic matter. A horrible life to live, one with someone who simply isn't capable of connecting with you. But worse is to come, as we know.

When events unspool in the second half of the book and several separate tragedies unfold, it's Author Davies's skill at telling the story that keeps pages turning. You see, this is a tale told, not a life lived in prose. This book is the well-written story of the story. It's a distancing narrative strategy. I don't mind it too awful terrible much when the sentences are lovely and the paragraphs lead me to the finish line without becoming arch, or unfocused. Archness is perhaps the bigger danger, since Author Davies is an experienced hand at writing short stories (eg, Some New Ambush, The Travellers and Other Stories: Some New Ambush and The Redemption of Galen Pike). In fact, this feels like a novella that sprang from a short story which simply couldn't contain the entire necessary plot.

So I'm a fraction off ecstatic, but on the high end of very well pleased, at the end of the read. I recommend it to anyone who needs a dose of a truly spunky and resourceful character (Bellman) and a stern, steely hero (Bess) who meet their fates without a single illusion between them and reality. The illusions have all burned away. This explains their differing ends.
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,909 reviews727 followers
May 27, 2018
You can see my reviews here: https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...

"Thou hast seen nothing yet.” ( Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote)

The spirit of adventure and discovery lies within all of us. Some of us discover from the comforts of our own home, or through a book, or perhaps even a trip, while others go out and do try to tilt those windmills. Like the character Don Quixote, Cy Bellman, a mule breeder, looks to adventure and discovery. He reads of the discovery of colossal bones in Kentucky and he needs to find these animals. Cy is a widower, a father to a ten year old daughter, Bess. However, he can't deny himself this journey into the unknown. This was a time where land was unknown and dangers existed in the journey Cy has determined he needs to make.

Cy leaves his daughter in the care of a straight laced aunt, but does promise to return in two years and of course write of his adventure. Bess is left with little other than a gold ring and the farm and of course her aunt. She joins a subscription library and through it tries to trace the route her father has taken. Bess is growing into womanhood and there are some who have dangerous desires towards her. She too, is alone and needs the same strength to survive.

This very short book was a look into the times when a great part of this country remained a mystery. It was a story of a man who looked into the possibility of finding these massive creatures so much so that it consumed him. Some of us live for a dream, others of us pursue that dream, no matter where or how it will leave them or the people they have left behind.

Thanks once again to my local library for purchasing a copy of this wonderful book! "Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit." (Frank Borman)
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
April 29, 2018
If you are new to Carys Davies, I will please beg you to read her short story collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike, which is a standout on numerous levels. I was less interested in the story of this short novel, but it was still good. A man leaves his daughter with his sister after his wife dies, in search of the creatures described in travel accounts from men traveling west. The daughter Bess seems to be the focus of the novel, but unfortunately she is also the focus of leering men in her life (two seemed like overkill here; it seemed strange for her to have no allies) and her aunt is not aware enough of what is going on.

The ending left me unsatisfied; it feels either too long or incomplete.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through Edelweiss. It came out April 24, 2018.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
584 reviews326 followers
August 11, 2018
4✚ 🦖 🦖 🦖 🦖
If a picture can be worth a thousand words, can a very short novel be worth a thousand pictures?
Yes. Its spare pages open out in true CinemaScope fashion just as The West lay before those brave or crazy enough to venture forth and that's exactly what Cy Bellman does but he's not in search of Indians or gold or land but living, breathing dinosaurs in the mid 1800s. He leaves behind his very young and vulnerable daughter. Just who will be in the most danger? You will have to read to find out.
Jack Webb would love this novel and so did I.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
474 reviews574 followers
May 7, 2018
I first became aware of West from a rave review in The Sunday Times. Its editor Andrew Holgate said that he hadn't felt as strongly about a novel since Golden Hill, and given how much I enjoyed that wonderful book, I had to see if he was on the money again.

The action takes place in America of the early 19th century. In the opening chapter, Cy Bellman, a mule breeder, is saying goodbye to his young daughter Bess. He has read a newspaper article describing enormous bones discovered in Kentucky, and cannot rest until he sees these giant beasts for himself. He leaves Bess with his disapproving sister and sets off from his Pennsylvania home, promising to be back within two years. Bess pines for her father while he is away, watching out for his letters and imagining the wild adventures he is having. Cy's journey takes some unexpected turns and he endures his fair share of setbacks. There are times when he wonders if he made the right choice:
"You had so many ways of deciding which way to live your life. It made his head spin to think of them. It hurt his heart to think that he had decided on the wrong way."

It's a short book, just 160 pages long - minimal in style, yet epic in scope. We follow Cy's perilous journey across the great American plains, hoping against hope that it will prove fruitful. Yet there is an undercurrent of disquiet throughout, a sense that things won't end well. But I have one major problem with the story The plot moves at a fair clip and it really speeds up in the last few chapters - I was flipping the pages in a frenzy to get to the end. Overall, West is entertaining, lyrical historical fiction. I did enjoy it and I do think it's worth reading, but the heavy praise has a me a little bemused.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 12 books1,933 followers
March 4, 2022
I loved this novella about a man, Cy, who travels West in the 1830s to find the 'giant' animals he's read about in newspaper. He leaves behind his ten-year-old daughter in the rather slack care of his sister and journeys accompanied by a male native American, who has the brilliant name of Old Woman from a Distance. It's pretty much perfect, with the endless terrible journey and struggle to survive. Davies switches point of view in an interesting way, and even the rather surreal and unlikely ending, I loved. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
642 reviews3,124 followers
May 16, 2019
In early 19th century America a widower named Cy Bellman journeys out to the wild west leaving behind his adolescent daughter Bess. He’s seen a news report that the bones of colossal unknown beasts were discovered there so he sets out hoping to discover if any of these rare animals survive. His mission is undoubtably foolish as such a dangerous journey at this time takes years and means he has to entrust the business of his farm and the raising of his daughter to his sister Julie. It’s not even an endeavour to strike it rich like in a gold rush, but just to witness a heretofore unknown creature of enormous size. We follow the years of his hazardous journey alongside the perils his daughter Bess faces as she grows into womanhood. It’s utterly gripping and poignantly told.

Read my full review of West by Carys Davies on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Claire.
789 reviews168 followers
April 12, 2019
Oh I’m glad I finally picked this one up, West is absolutely my kind of read. If you like your novels detailed and intricate steer clear. Davies first novel is slight and quiet, but still manages to discuss some big ideas, draw vivid portrait of a place, and construct characters with surprising depth. Davies’ writing is carefully considered and sparse, every word and phrase has meaning. This is a novel you savour sentence by sentence, and are simultaneously compelled to read on (and on, and on). In many ways this isn’t a new story; it leans heavily on the western genre to tell a familiar tale of fated journeys, American exceptionalism, and the arrogance of the white man in the face of nature, and those who have come before. This novel is equal parts devastating and entrancing, familiar and not so. I loved it.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
650 reviews583 followers
June 8, 2018
A rich, nuanced epic in miniature of the American west. In 1815 a silly man leaves behind his young daughter in Pennsylvania, and his widower grief, traveling afar in search of live dinosaurs. Davies spins a spare novel out of the essential American threads of idiotic settler maleness, racism, sexual violence, and genocide. Oscar Wilde said “I cannot think otherwise than in stories.“ I say that from here on in I shall be unable to think about America without casting my thoughts back upon this novel.

Thanks to Netgalley for the e-book received in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,145 reviews1,909 followers
September 10, 2021
This feels like an extended short story and could easily be read in one sitting. The setting is the US in the early nineteenth century. It feels a bit like a fable and consequently the reader has to suspend a certain amount reliance on historical accuracy.
Cyrus (Cy) Bellman lives in Pennsylvania where he breeds mules. His wife has died and he lives with his daughter Bess who is ten years old. He reads reports of an expedition to the Midwest (largely unexplored) where the remains have been found of very large creatures, presumably dinosaurs or possibly mammoths. Bellman speculates that these creatures may still be living out there. Bellman decides to go looking for them. Bess is to stay where she is, to be watched over by his sister Julie and the hired hand on the farm Elmer Jackson. There are no prizes for parenting here. Bellman buys himself a stovepipe hat and takes lots of trinkets and tools to trade with the locals. A French trader provides him with a young Native American guide when he reaches a trading station and off he goes into the wilderness. Time passes, two years and Bess is growing up whilst Elmer Jackson is turning into a stalker.
Bellman does question what he has done:
“You had so many ways of deciding which way to live your life. It made his head spin to think of them. It hurt his heart to think that he had decided on the wrong way.”
The narrative switches between Bellman and his daughter. Bellman is searching for monsters that don’t exist whilst his daughter is navigating her way around those that do.
The writing is spare and luminous but I found myself not really engaging with the wilderness part of the narrative:
“The intermittent appearance of natives now, though he’d come by this time to expect it, amazed him: the presence of people in the vast wilderness around them. Even though he was used to the rhythm of their journey – that he and the boy could travel for a month and see no one, and then without warning encounter a large camp, or a group of savages walking or fishing. Noisy children and men whose bodies gleamed with grease and coal, women loaded like mules with bundles of buffalo meat. A whole mass of them together, undifferentiated and strange, and present suddenly amidst the course grass and the trees, the rocks and the river, beneath the enormous sky. All of them wanting to touch his red hair. Half of them enthralled by his compass, the other half trying to examine his knife and the contents of his tin chest. All of them fearful of his guns and eager to traffic a little raw meat for some of his treasures.”
Bellman is out there for over two years in winters where he would have frozen to death meeting people who had no reason to welcome settlers who displaced them from their lands. There is a whimsicality to this, which is fine, but I struggled with the juxtaposition to the sheer unbelievability of half of the tale.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,380 reviews519 followers
March 17, 2019
[4+] I read this short novel in one sitting - but savored rather than gulped it. The writing is exquisite and the structure and pacing - dipping back and forth between Bellman's journey westward and the daughter he left behind in Pennsylvania worked beautifully.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,211 reviews453 followers
June 21, 2018
You can read the plot synopsis on the GR description, so I will just say that I really love this author's style. Very understated and simple, but she says so much in so few words. This book is 166 pages, but it almost felt like an epic adventure story. I understood these characters completely. And the juxtaposition of the father's journey and the daughter's life at home was another factor. The conclusion was perfect for me, and left me with indelible images to carry in my mind. I've not read her short stories, but I think this writer is one to watch.
Profile Image for Emma.
970 reviews956 followers
April 8, 2018
This piece of historical fiction, an account of a man who leaves his life to search for dinosaurs in the unknown lands beyond the Mississippi river, manages to be both dreamlike and ploddingly real. Both the man and the language are spare and basic, they step carefully along their path, each reflecting the other, but slowly move beyond the cautious into the wilderness and possibility of the undetermined self. It is cleverly done, if not always as gripping as you might expect from such a journey, but the interspersed moments of his daughter's story are where the emotion of the novel transforms into an ache in your chest. Her loss, her sheer bewilderment as her life turns from merely upside down to downright dangerous, is wrapped up in her own stoic nature and determined optimism about her father's return. For me, it was her experience that made the novel, not a man's midlife crisis, but the young girl at the mercy of the wilful decisions of those around her.

While it didn't always maintain the heights to which it aspired, this was an intriguing short novel, with the kind of characterisation that promises much from the author in the future.


ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for Annie.
88 reviews
March 2, 2018
Wow. Finishing this novel has at once made me speechless as well as making me want to write an essay because there is so much that I could say about it. This novel is about extinction - of a species, of a people, and of that intangible something that lingers within us and propels us to pursue something greater than ourselves. I loved the pacing and the way that Davies describes the silent beauty of nature and the tender interactions between the characters. There is nothing flowery or sentimental here, just a bare and quiet eloquence and subtle poignancy.

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maddie.
116 reviews47 followers
December 6, 2018
Well, this was disappointing.

When Bellman, a red-haired english settler in the East of the United States reads in the newspaper that colossal ancient bones have been discovered in the West, a passion awakens deep inside him that leads him to abandon his ten-year-old child, Bessie, and go out into the semi-uncharted wilderness of the early 19th Century in order to find this unknown beasts. Along the way, he makes his acquaintance with a Shawnee boy who agrees to lead him on his expedition, even though he has never seen these beasts before.

My biggest issue with Carys Davies debut novella is that it feels like the bare bones of a story, an idea that has not been fully fleshed out or achieved; unfortunately, it became a novel far too soon. I love reading novellas and I think it takes a special kind of skill to develop a story that feels “enough”, “just right” in the limited amount of pages a novella takes. West is one of those cases that would likely benefit from being a full-length novel: I thought the story was superficial, the characters not fleshed out enough (I didn’t care for any of the characters any more than the usual amount one is required to care for a character-driven narrative without having the urge to put it down and never pick it up again… which I almost did) and the scenes very rushed and lacking any true meaning (for example, the reasons behind Bellman’s fervent desire to find these supposed creatures were never presented, not even hinted at (and I waited until the very end for some kind of revelation, magical or not, sentimental or just pragmatic).

I wasn’t a huge fan of narrative style, either: small, flashy chapter that intercalate between Bessie’s and Bellman’s perspective, sometimes interrupted by one or two characters from the point of view of characters we had never met before, would never meet again and didn’t add anything particularly new or groundbreaking to the narrative (for example, the chapter about the blacksmith’s widow - so useless I can no longer remember her name… Mary something? Likely, as all 19th century women are called Mary). The alternating pov chapters is straightforward enough but then Davies also thought it would be fun to mix things up and sometimes follow a linear timeline and sometimes jump around, making it hard to understand when certain events were taking place (of course, she would make certain moments be in complete synch between Bessie’s and Bellman’s perspectives because it was useful to the plot… like the ending). Another thing that made me particularly uncomfortable was what felt to me gratuitous sexual violence towards Bessie, a ten (later twelve, as the 120 novella spans the length of two full years) girl. I get it, Westerns are nitty gritty, but if there is no resemble of violence in the more “traditional” ways, if you’re choosing to ignore all that, why choose to keep this one aspect of violence? Just to symbolize men are shitty and always have been? Trust me, we all know that, there’s no need to remind us.

I thought there was an endearing quality in the later chapters when we follow “Old Woman From a Distance” (the name given to the Shawnee boy) and the plot obtains a kind of circularity that nonetheless felt too neatly packaged to feel anything but “hollywood-esque”.

All in all, this really felt like the beginning of an idea that could have been great but turned out to just be lost in a puddle of much more powerful narratives in the Western genre.
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
900 reviews86 followers
March 31, 2021
The perfect match of tone, language, story, characters, all in a tight 150 pages. Bess, Bellman and Old Woman From a Distance are unforgettable. A book that scratches my True Grit itch.
Profile Image for H.A. Leuschel.
Author 5 books249 followers
February 16, 2020
What a fabulous read!
This is a compelling and highly captivating story about grief, coming of age and how difficult it can be to understand those closest to our heart. It's a simple plot yet rendered with depth and beautiful writing.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,896 reviews645 followers
April 5, 2021
3.5, rounded up.

I am not generally drawn to the 'Western' genre ('Days Without End' being the one notable exception I can think of, offhand), so was not inherently interested in Davies' story initially. It's a quick read, and though the sparse prose has nothing fancy about it, it gets the job done. The structure seemed odd at times, with at least one major 'revelation' happening long before it's necessary, and then going back and filling in what happened leading up to that rather an anti-climax (sorry to be obtuse, but didn't want to give any spoilers!). The abrupt ending somewhat redeems the slight deficiencies, however, and elevates it from the preceding bleakness.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,390 reviews302 followers
January 13, 2018

John Cyrus Bellman left his Lewiston, PA farm and his only child to embark on a quest into the west. He knew he would be gone at least two years. Was he a fool, like his sister judged, or romantic and adventurous, as he appeared to his daughter Bess?

Bellman's desire to see undiscovered country was rooted in a longing to find the living creatures whose huge bones had been discovered in Kentucky. He had already crossed an ocean, from England to America, built a farm, had a child, and lost a wife. But the West beckoned with its mysteries and he could no longer stay put.

Bellman studied the Lewis and Clark Expedition maps at the subscription library. His plan was to follow their trail...but to diverge into the vast spaces they had left unstudied. He was certain he would find the mammoth creatures alive. He packed up trading items and set off on his journey, leaving his daughter and farm to his sister's care.

Carys Davies novel West takes readers across hostile landscapes both wild and settled. As Bellman faces cruel winters and lean seasons, accompanied only by a Native American boy, back in Lewistown his daughter Bess survives in an isolated land without parental love or friends. Bess dreams of her father's travels, longing to see the library maps herself. And, unprotected in the world, as Bess nears puberty, men watch her and wait and scheme.

Bellman's decision to go on his journey seemed to me at once a quest and an escape, resulting in a "night sea journey" recognition of what he had given up in leaving his known world. He struggles with the choices he made, realizing that sometimes we set our mind on what seems important only to realize we have been mistaken in our values.

The novel is beautifully written.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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