A Novelist’s Setting Turns Apocalyptic: A Review of Cynan Jones’s “Stillicide”

"Stillicide" cover

Stillicide is the latest offering from Cynan Jones, which was written first as a radio play for BBC Radio and adapted into a short novel. An assemblage of narratives that revolve around a single issue, Jones’s latest book is a bit different from his previous books as it’s a speculative novel about global warming that looks to a future that we may be doomed to face. 

The story is a collection of short sections that follows a marksman, a nurse, and a professor who all face the grim realities that England is running out of water, an enormous iceberg is drifting closer to the island, and terrorists are attempt to disrupt the water line that travels across the country to reach the modern settlements. In attempt to thwart the attacks, officials install a train line, outfitted with automated guns that shoot anything that moves near the line. Through the characters, we see different perspectives of people living in the face of global disaster, a sharp-shooter tasked with scouting threats along the train line who reflects on his losses to a woman who lives in a densely populated settlement who reminisces about life before the crisis, to those who live near the shore and have refused to move to the city from their homes despite the impending threat of disaster. We see the way in which these characters struggle against the things they cannot control and find themselves confronting things they’ve lost—lovers, children, and pleasures.

The writing is sparse, grouped into small paragraphs and the occasional sentence floating in white space on the page—islands of sensation all vibrating with fear and longing. At a line level, the language is more akin to his recent books like Cove. Short bursts of sentences that carry within them a foreboding melody in an angular minor key. For example, this sentence on the first page helps set the tempo and tone of the rest of the book: 

Banner stood over the body, the rain hitting his hood, drumming out the rush of the train. Heavy and rhythmic, heavy and rhythmic.

The repetition in this sentence is something we see repeated in the story. A reminder of the impending crisis, the coming iceberg that serves as metaphor for climate change. And we connect not only to the repetition, but in the impending threat we all face with global warming.

Though I do sometimes find myself missing the longer prose of Jones’s earlier works a little bit as I appreciated the way he paid attention to systems and processes. There was a different kind of poetry to that work that was engaging, I do enjoy the near frenetic energy of his last two novels. Jones is adept at writing emotionally compelling fiction in snapshots and he’s really refined the skill in Stillicide


by Cynan Jones
Catapult; 126 p.

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