The Dig is a brutal book – both physically and emotionally. It’s also a constantly gripping and involving story that will stay with you long after you put the pages down.
At its heart, the story centres around two very different people, and how they react to the land and animals around them. One is a farmer named Daniel, recently mourning the loss of his wife and struggling to maintain the farm by himself, and the other is a vicious badger-baiter and all-round vacuum of humanity.
Jones has a sparse yet descriptive way of writing – he uses short paragraphs and stilted dialogue to heighten the mood and sense of isolation. The heartbreaking passages describing Daniel’s day to day thoughts and movements are beautifully crafted, capturing the sense of loss and distraction in a bottle. These sections also provide glimpses into the life of a modern farmer, looking at the pressures and hardships faced by those who make their living with livestock.
The other half of the book, dealing with the badger-baiter known only as “The Big Man” or “Ag” is vivid and jagged, full of sobering descriptions of how he deals with his prey and other people in the area.
There’s a sense of dread and inevitability as the book progresses and we wait for the two characters to meet, knowing nothing good can come from it. One tries to conserve life, while the other only destroys. While it’s not an easy book to read or digest, it is a very rewarding one, viscerally written and intensely charged.