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Everything I Found on the Beach by Cynan Jones

A profound story in simple packaging tells of three men longing to catch a break, against a desolate backdrop.

everything I found

Cynan Jones’s (The Dig) Everything I Found on the Beach is a remarkable novel, quiet but powerful. Three unacquainted men on the west coast of Wales aspire to better their respective circumstances, and to that end make a series of decisions that have dire consequences. It is a story filled with tension, desperation and stoicism. Patient pacing nonetheless accompanies a relentless momentum, moving toward an ending that inspires dread.

Hold is a Welsh fisherman, consumed by his sense of responsibility. He is dedicated to the natural world and his place in it, carefully balanced and respectful in the hunting and fishing he does for a living. He is devoted to the wife and son of his recently deceased best friend; Hold made a promise to this friend that worries him constantly. His sense of duty begins as rational and admirable, but may end by overwhelming him. Grzegorz is a Polish immigrant who brought his family to Wales for a better life but found disappointment. He works shifts at a slaughterhouse whose practices offend him, and sees little hope of escaping the indignities of shared migrant workers’ housing. If only he could get a little ahead, he thinks, this might have been worth it. Finally there is Stringer, Irish and a middleman in a criminal hierarchy that he feels has taken advantage of him for too long. These men find potential solutions to their problems in a scene on the beach: a boat, a dead man and a package. Hold’s livelihood offers the metaphor of the net: “Once they choose a course, if the net is there, they hit it.”

Jones’s writing is deceptively simple, often employing short, declarative sentences that belie his poetic mastery of language. His words have a marching rhythm to them that recalls Hemingway: “The first time he ever shot rabbits he was alone and it was with a shotgun and he had been looking for a long time….” His tone is deliberate, resolutely unexcitable despite the extraordinarily high stakes of his story, peopled almost entirely by the three men, whose interior monologues do much of the work to characterize them.

Such a bleak story and austere style may sound gloomy, and it is true that this is a serious book that rewards careful reading. But Everything I Found on the Beach is also thought-provoking and somehow uplifting, in its beautiful, artistic consideration of life itself.


This review originally ran in the March 11, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 8 rabbits.

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