Cynan Jones’ novel Everything I Found on the Beach, was his second novel in the British Isles released after The Long Dry, which made garnered some favorable reviews after it was published in 2006 and reprinted by Granta in 2014. It is also the second Jones novel published by Coffee House Press (his first with Coffee House Press was The Dig, which Granta published in 2014). Structurally, Everything I Found on the Beach doesn’t break any new ground, as mainly it’s composed of two intersecting plot lines that compliment one another and inform the reader of a full narrative picture.
Though Jones takes a relatively straightforward approach in the novel, not implementing as many daring leaps with language or structure as some of the other authors on Coffee House Press’s roster, it’s a very engaging and compelling story. Filled with poverty, heartbreak, and danger, Jones’ novel poses some very simple but timeless questions.
The two central characters of the book are Hold and Grzegorz, the former a Welsh fisherman and the later a Polish migrant worker. There are moments when Jones offers sections that stray from these two characters, namely when the narration focuses on police officers observing a crime scene or when it focuses on an Irish gangster named Stringer. I should note that I didn’t find these chapters to very compelling as they lack in depth when compared to the stories of Hold and Grzegorz. Where Stringer and his companions do become necessary is in providing the catalyst for this story, a kilo of cocaine. The police narrative also serves as a type of timeframe for the events that transpire around the drugs.
The package of cocaine acts as the vehicle of fate. For both Hold and Grzegorz, the drug delivery provides them with an opportunity to solve a short-term financial problem, which in turn might help them focus on long-term goals and edge their way out of poverty. It’s a simple and familiar tool, but it feels fresh and effective in Jones’ hands.
Where Everything I found on the Beach excels is in its use of language. Jones writes sentences that require time. They are not immediate and quick, but even paced and blossoming. For example, Jones writes, “[w]hen the couple came back to the kitchen and saw the boy on the chair helping the women with the soup, Grzegorz almost choked with his cloth of thanks that seemed to cough up out of him from somewhere.” It’s not so much what’s happening in the scene that I found so compelling about this sentence, but the turn of phrase “cloth of thanks” and the hard C sound in the sentence of the words couple, chair, choked, cloth cough, coupled with the soft S sound in saw, soup, thanks, seemed somewhere. The sounds seesaw and that momentum helps propel the line.
Perhaps my favorite (and admittedly as a vegetarian equally despised) element of this novel is Jones’s attention to detail. Hold is a fisherman and a hunter and Grzegorz works in a slaughterhouse. Jones details the daily duties of these characters with such precision that I found myself (at times) put off by the gut and gore of it. However, Jones isn’t attempting to detail death as a way to shock or surprise his readers, but as a way to welcome his reader to the reality of these men’s worlds. A world of survival; it’s the cruelty of automatism in that survival that Jones addresses in this book that I find especially redeeming. Hold must make a difficult choice and when he does this, he reflects on the act of killing for survival. Jones writes, “[…] he had to go cold, like when he had to kill things. One phrase that she said over and over, had stuck itself into his mind, and it was difficult to forget […] like seeing the eye of the animal you are about to kill look right in you […].” This line endears Hold to us as it shows a compassion that is otherwise lacking in some of his actions.
Everything I Found on the Beach is a fine book, a book I can recommend to my friends who like to read but find most of what I’m reading to be a bit too dark or strange. Though it’s certainly not an uplifting read, it’s a book that travels well and moves rather quickly. The prose is straightforward and there’s nothing too difficult for a reader to struggle with in the subtext. I dare say it could be a beach read, if that beach is in the United Kingdom.
Everything I Found on the Beach
by Cynan Jones
Coffee House Press; 248 p.