A family on a Welsh farm in a grim future struggle to survive in this stark, affecting novel with a vision that means to disturb.
The adults are Wil, who knows about farming; Elin, his sister, who has buried a husband and three children on the property; and Jack, her companion, a former computer specialist who helps Wil before slowly going mad. The younger generation comprises Elin’s remaining daughter, 16-year-old Mari, and son, Huw, 12. A Pole named Nico, aged about 20, will join them and prove resourceful, stealing horses, pigs and Mari’s heart. For most of the book, the story is one of daily labor to capture, cultivate or preserve the most basic food and to avoid despair. It’s clear from a few comments that wrenching changes have whittled the world down from a time in the 21st century when “everyone had gone to live in their laptops” to a new Dark Ages, devoid of fuel or iPods or manufactured goods. All the time the nearby lake grows and encroaches, and the characters struggle to be more than victims. Jones gives each space to ponder her or his lot, but he captures them best in quick strokes, such as these for Huw: “His shoulder blades stand out like knives and he hurts everyone with his love, passing from one to the other as a pet lamb might do, jabbing everyone with his neediness and his sharp little bones.” Hints of how the world went wrong eventually yield to blunt exposition accompanied by the sort of people who survived an even more brutal existence outside this farm’s family.
The sad beauty in this scorched latter-day Eden is wrung from an ugly environmental truth in which even Jones’ heavy-handed moral can’t be heavy enough if it means avoiding such another fall of man.