Strangely, for me, I only got to around a dozen novels this year, most of my reading time taken up with Short Fiction, PhD research and teaching undergrads. The year kicked off with an extraordinarily visceral book, and ended with something no less worthy. Those in between ranged from enjoyable to fabulously mediocre to upsettingly awful, the less dwelt on them the better, and one should always be delighted with a strike rate of one in six. My (likely) last novel of 2014 was another to strike a fierce blow to the gut, a narrative so taut, immersive and affecting, I could hardly face the world or my life for several hours.
What Jones' The Dig does so brilliantly is everything I've been drumming into my short story class this term: intensity, compression, timing and lacunae. There's a surgical precision here that invites the reader to regard the text a poem, although the west Wales countryside is always evoked with gritty realism rather than forays into the sentimental. Daniel, a lonely sheep farmer bruised by life's contrails, attempts to forge a life - the reader dealt a devastating blow within pages of meeting him. Solitary and sensitive, he is on a collision course with an unnamed persecutor of badgers, a brutal man so brilliantly drawn as to remind this reader of those quiet psychopaths we brush against from time to time. Tension crescendos like a slowly tightening tourniquet around the chest, the finale perfectly spare and resonant. Muscular, moody and unsettling, there is as much beauty to be found in The Dig as there is poignant despair. This is art at its finest.