Cynan Jones’ Cove is a riveting story. At only 92 pages, it’s just a short novel, and I read the entire story in one sitting as my son napped on a recent flight from Seattle to Chicago. He doesn’t nap well, so I was happy to finish the story and still have time to reflect on it before he opened his eyes.
In Cove the unnamed protagonist finds himself stranded aboard his kayak at sea after being struck by lightning. He awakes with no memory of who he is, where he is, or what he was doing. The man struggles through hallucinations, dreams, and facing grim reality alone. The transitions in and out of real v. imaginary are intentionally mysterious, giving the reader a sense of what it might be like to be injured, amnesiac, and lost at sea.
The story takes place entirely in his small kayak, adrift at sea, and an indeterminate amount of time passes as he struggles to survive, to remember who he is, and determine how to get back to shore. As the book progresses, there are brief flashes of memories of a woman, of his father, and the realization that he is at sea to disperse his father’s ashes. These thoughts, realities, and delusions never quite create a linear path—and nor should they—as they illustrate the struggle that the kayaker is enduring.
In addition to the premise of the story and the intriguing narrative, Jones’ prose itself is well considered. Every element of the text works to convey the central themes of the book. The namelessness of the characters emphasizes the feelings of isolation and primal fear. Even the physical layout of the pages, set with wide margins that isolate the text from the edge of the page, creates an expansive white space that deepens the readers’ sense of profound loneliness. (These expansive margins perhaps also helped me finish reading with time to spare during my son’s power nap.)
While Cove is far from a tale of passagemaking, it digs deep into the fear of being purely at the mercy of the sea and weather, a feeling to which many bluewater cruisers will be able to relate. In this story, Jones packs in masterful descriptions—feelings of numbness, the smell of burnt hair and flesh, the rawness of a hand left in the water while unconscious—that allow the reader to smell the salt air and feel the protagonist’s controlled panic.
So, if you find yourself missing the water this winter, need a short book to kickstart your offseason reading, or are simply looking for a gripping novel to add to the top of your pile, I highly recommend picking up this one. Oh, and if you take off in your kayak alone, make sure to keep a charged EPIRB onboard.