Cove, by Cynan Jones
A man. A kayak. The sea. Not much else falls within the horizons of Cynan Jones’ new novel, a masterclass in concision, in trimming away everything extraneous until what remain is a short, stark, shock of a book where every word crackles with electricity. The man goes out to sea in a kayak. He takes with him his father’s ashes to scatter. He is struck by lightning. He awakens with no memory of who he is, or how he came to be there. He must pit himself against the elements and against his pain to get back to shore.
Cove is a brief book, pushing at the lower bounds of what might be deemed a novel, but plenty lies beneath the surface of Jones’ prose, just out of view. Jones’ prose makes the familiar seem strange, with the simplest of objects taking on a new and elemental significance. The sea’s salt and the ash from the lightning strike form a “pyroclast” on the man’s skin, a volcanic flow. The man’s skin becomes imbued with the breathing of the earth. The world comes to Jones’ unnamed protagonist, his few miles of sea and his little plastic kayak. He’s hardly in a fit state to go to it.
Jones’ language shimmers with a suggestive poetry. Whilst the novel’s setting and the protagonist’s struggle might lend itself to parallels with The Old Man and the Sea, Jones’ bare, sparse lyricism could not be further removed from the rhythms of Hemingway’s prose. Cove’s short, spiky paragraphs, in some case barely a line long, sit on the page looking more like poetry than prose, telling at once everything and nothing.
The power of Jones’ writing lies not in moments of shock and drama, but in the slow buildup of a dimly apprehended tension, felt in the pit of the stomach. The feeling that your water is running out. The feeling that you’re too far out from the shore. The feeling that you won’t make it back. It’s in these moments of subtle horror that Cove truly grabs you.
I was kindly provided a review copy of Cove by Granta.