‘The Long Dry’ by Cynan Jones – Life and Death on the Farm

 

‘The Long Dry’ by Cynan Jones (2017) – 117 pages

This month is the Wales Readathon hosted by Paula Bardell Hedley at Book Jotter. (Twitter hashtag #dewithon and/or #walesreadathon). By a rare coincidence I recently completed ‘The Long Dry’ by Cynan Jones from Wales so I am posting this review as part of the Wales Readathon.

‘The Long Dry’ is a fatalistic Welsh farm novel. Everything about life and death on the farm is a struggle.

I did not realize there were still any heavy-duty farms on the English island, but apparently in Wales there is. The Welsh seem to make it a point of honor that they are nothing like the English.

A typical sad scene is when a cow on the farm tries to give birth to a calf that is in the wrong position for birth, a breech birth. The calf is born dead. No one is sadder than a cow which has lost her calf. However the calf’s twin is born alive and OK. The farmer moves on.

In order to appreciate ‘The Long Dry’, you must slow down your reading to a slow crawl. Otherwise you will not appreciate the loaded meaning that went into each sentence. In that sense this novel is like poetry.

Another cow about to give birth wanders off the farm. The section of the novel named ‘The Sedge’ is told from the cow’s point of view.

Later, the cow got too hot, so she got onto her feet again and she could feel the calf moving inside her. She lifted her tail and let out a long wet pie. Then she went on. By now she was hanging her head when she walked and just ambling.”

A later sad scene is when the veterinarian has a conversation with the young daughter Emily while he put the family’s old dog Curly to final sleep.

It’s a medicine that will make his heart go slower, and slower, and then it will stop.” He didn’t have to say that it wouldn’t hurt the dog because of the way he said this thing..

Like when it stops raining?” she said. Nothing had ever moved him more in his life than the beautiful questions of children.

Yes. Like when it stops raining.”

These lines are beautiful but sad as most of the novel is. More than anything, ‘The Long Dry’ is about death. Reading it is both daunting and exhausting.

‘The Long Dry’ reminded me of my own upbringing on a dairy farm near Sparta, Wisconsin where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. I never amounted to much of anything as a farm boy. Perhaps it was all the work that was to be done on the farm as I was known as a lazy kid. Or perhaps it was the trips to the slaughterhouse in our light blue pickup truck with two young male calves in back. On a dairy farm, most of the young male calves are quickly disposed of as veal meat. I was sensitive. Two things you don’t want to be on a farm are lazy or sensitive.

What is missing from ‘The Long Dry’ is the humor. What I remember most now about my days on the farm are the humorous occasions. There were a good share of light moments mixed in with the pain and strain of living and dying.

Perhaps another novel by Cynan Jones will cover the lighter side of life on the farm.

 

Grade:    B+

 

12 responses to this post.

  1. LOL When I married into a family that bred Black Angus cattle for export, I eventually had to ‘fess up… close up, I find cows alarming. A whole book about them is not for me!

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  2. I love Cynan Jones… his work is very moving and beautiful. I read The Long Dry a couple of years ago so went back to read my review. I mention that the book has some moments of unexpected humour and use the following quote to back this up:

    “People are seduced by ducks: by their seeming placidity. They fall for the apparent imbecility of their smiles and their quietly lunatic quacking. But they are dangerous things which plot, like functioning addicts. In the local town — a beautiful Georgian harbour town which is not lazy and which is very colourful — the ducks got out of hand. […] If you tried to drink a quiet pint on the harbour the ducks were there and they sat squatly and looked up at you and seemed to chuckle superciliously, which was off-putting. If you put your washing out, somehow the ducks knew, and by some defiance of physics managed to crap on it. And duck crap isn’t nice. It’s green like baby-shit. If you fed a baby on broccoli for a week.”

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    • Hi Kim,
      You proved your point. Cynan Jones does have a sense of humor. But you must admit that ‘The Long Dry’ is most about the eternal things in life on the farm which often involve birth and death.
      In other words, this is a quintessential Welsh novel. I can remember two previous encounters with Welsh writing, ‘In Parenthesis’ by David Jones and ‘The Sin Eater’ by Alice Thomas Ellis who lived in Wales for some of her childhood.

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  3. […] ‘The Long Dry’ by Cynan Jones – Life and Death on the Farm – Tony’s Book World […]

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  4. Super review, Tony. Many thanks indeed. I’ve posted it to: https://bookjotter.com/2019/02/25/the-wales-readathon-2019/ 😊

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  5. I do like Cynan Jones, but I think you have a point about him being a bit on the serious side. There are comic moments as Kim successfully argues, but overall his focus is on a sense of the eternal and I think that tends to squeeze out the black comedy of the everyday.

    Good review.

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