Short Story Review: The Dig by Cynan Jones

Story Title: The Dig by Cynan Jones
Collection/Anthology?: First published in Granta 119: Britain. The story can be read on Granta website (subscription required).
Briefly: A son joins his father for his first ever badger dig.
Afterthoughts: A tense story which follows a lad as he enters a grimy, gritty tetesterone-filled world, full of mud, murk and murder. It’s a world that the boy is clearly not all that unfamiliar with, but it’s one where he has little leverage or opportunity to assert himself (not that I’m suggesting for a minute that this lad has any kind of assertiveness). He therefore plays the only hand he knows, to grin and bear all that is presented before him, in the hope that he will gain recognition and acceptance in an exclusively male domain.

Really, full marks to the author Cynan Jones for this story. The Welsh author has clearly spent a lot of his life tramping the countryside, as he evokes the rural and its rules and environs exquisitely. So much so in fact, that while reading I felt as though I had truly been plonked in the middle of nowhere, where my noise filled with the smell of wet mud, and the crack of breaking branches could be heard underfoot. I know this all sounds cliched, but I really did feel transported to the story.

And as for the story itself? Well, it’s unforgettable! As I said at the beginning The Dig is tense, and it holds this tension throughout as the reader wonders which path he is going to be led down (quite literally). And then at the end, as is the mark of any well written short story, the reader is left pondering the characters and the lives they continue to lead. I can really think of little to fault this one. It stands as perfect example of how a good short story should be written. Bravo Mr. Jones.

Notable quote: They took the dogs from the run and got them in the car and drove off the estate. The boy found the smell of the sawdust and dog shit in the run hard to bear in the early morning. The smell of it was a strange note against the deodorant he enveloped himself with. he had not been digging before and was trying to imagine it. he imagined it frenzied and was excited by this. he did not know it would be steady, unexciting procedural work and that it would not be like ratting at all.

Rating: ★★★★½

*What the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award judges said about this story: Andrew Holgate – ‘What stays with you about Cynan Jones’s story is both the real, gritty immediacy of the hunt for a badger, and the immense and sympathetic skill with which he portrays the young boy at the centre of it all.’

EFG Short Story Award This story was read as part of an overall review of the 2013 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award shortlist. For further details of the award and the stories to be found on the shortlist, please visit the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award section on the Booktrust website.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).