A badger baiter and a farmer have an existential pas de deux in rural Wales in this slim, piercing novella, the author’s first to be published in the United States.
The fourth novel by the Welsh author is set in modern times—there are trucks and cellphones—but Jones’ voice makes its setting feel either prehistoric or post-apocalyptic. That’s mainly because his language and imagery are persistently visceral when it comes to both men they depict. One is an unnamed “big man” who roots out badgers that are illegally pitted against dogs for sport; the other, Daniel, is a livestock farmer whose wife recently died after she was kicked in the head by a horse. In both cases, Jones’ language is deep in the rank muck of rural life: He describes Daniel helping to birth a newborn lamb, grabbing its hooves in the womb, feeling “its fast heartbeat in the chicken-bone cage of its ribs, still wet in his hands from the grease of birth”; after a badger hunt, a wounded dog’s artery “was a fraction above the cut and he could see it pump thickly through the dog’s skin.” The plot is simple, building to a climax as the “big man” encroaches on Daniel’s property, but Jones’ language is the main point of entry here. Like Cormac McCarthy, Jones can make the everyday sound fraught and biblical: “The townsmen were not used to such darkness nor this level of quietness and they were not restful in it.” But though primal, rough-hewn imagery abounds, the novel’s chief strength is its depiction of Daniel’s grief; in his struggle to keep the farm running on his own and in his recurring memory of happier times with his wife, he’s a deeply memorable character who’s simply rendered.
A persistently dour story that’s energized by the author’s command of character and mood.