Book Review: Cove by Cynan Jones

Book - Cove by Cynan JonesA man out at sea in a kayak is struck by lightning. He awakens, injured, confused and adrift, with no idea where he is or how he got there. He must, somehow, survive. This is a story which you will read in one sitting. It is acute, addictive and raw. The writing is stripped down, simplified, becoming more potent in its purest form. It is filmic and close, mimicking patterns of thought.

The book is short – just less than 100 pages. But it contains a lot. Here is an extract to show just how compelling this writing is:

“He wakes floating on his back, caught on a cleat by the elastic toggle of his wetsuit shoe. Around him hailstones melt and sink. They are scattered on the kayak, roll off as it bobs on the slight waves. There is a hissing sound. The hailstones melting in the water.”

It is almost a kind of prose poem, which gives an impression of reality, mixed up with other scenarios and external thoughts. The beginning of the book is also a kind of ending. I went back and read it again, after finishing, and am still unsure exactly what Cynan Jones intended the reader to think. Perhaps the wren feather (a kind of talisman) and the child’s doll, which gets rescued from the sea, are supposed to provide a beacon of hope.

I liked the way in which the man’s father, who has recently passed away, and his unborn child, are both spiritually and symbolically present as he begins to latch on to the truth of who he is, and to attempt to reign in his desperation and panic. There is more to the story than appears on the surface, just as the man is fearfully aware that beneath him (and beneath his flimsy kayak) is another world.

Cynan JoneCynan Jones & Tom Bullough at Cardiff Book Festival

Cynan Jones (right) & Tom Bullough at Cardiff Book Festival

Speaking at the Cardiff Book Festival, Jones explained that, whilst a lot of his previous work has focused strongly on place, he relished the challenge of writing about a man who is not sure where he is, and can’t even remember who he is. He normally visualises a book in his mind before setting pen to paper but, with Cove, he really struggled to do this. In the end, just as he felt that it was “like trying to drive my head into a wall”, he managed to get an extension to the deadline, allowing the book to “simmer for a bit” before he then re-wrote the entire thing from scratch.

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Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.