20 books of summer, 20 books of summer (2020), Author, Book review, Cynan Jones, dystopian, Fiction, Granta, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, UK

‘Stillicide’ by Cynan Jones

Fiction – hardcover; Granta; 180 pages; 2019.

Stillicide, n
1. A continual dropping of water.
2. Law — A right or duty relating to the collection of water from or onto adjacent land.
From Latin ‘stillicidium’, from ‘stilla’ drop + ‘-cidium’, from ‘cadere’ to fall.

Cynan Jones’ latest work, Stillicide, was originally conceived as 12 stories to be read aloud in 15-minute slots on BBC Radio 4. The stories were interconnected to form a collective whole, but each had to work as a standalone piece.

As Jones explains in his Author’s Note, “Being for radio, with listeners not having the chance to turn back a page, the world and its characters had to have an immediacy and be clear on first listening”.

The work has now been published in book form by Granta.

A future without water

The stories are all set in the not-too-distant future, where water has become so scarce it has to be “imported” via huge icebergs, towed from the Arctic Circle. A specially built Ice Dock is under construction but the project is now threatening to displace many residents, and people are protesting the plan.

Two years since the project started. An anniversary today. Of the beginning of construction, that started with a ribbon of buildings being demolished, before we could begin. A gash cut through the city to steer the iceberg through.

Meanwhile, a Water Train transports this now-rare commodity, but it, too, is under threat of heists and hold-ups. (A previous pipeline, taking water into the heart of the city, has been closed down because it had been bombed one too many times.)

There is only early morning light. Then the Water Train passes. Different. A weight of sound. The sound of a great waterfall crashing into a pool. It has the power church bells must used to have.

We, the reader, experience this dystopian world through the eyes of a diverse range of characters whose lives and livelihoods are impacted one way or the other by stillicide, but it’s mostly centred on Branner, a marksman, who defends the Water Train from the people who wish to derail it.

An ambitious project

Did I like this book? I’m not sure. It’s an ambitious project and I admired the premise and the execution — Jones is a superb writer, his prose is pared back and reads like poetry — but I struggled to “get” some of the individual stories and often couldn’t figure out what was going on.

I don’t think it helped that I read this in short snatches here and there; it’s definitely the type of book that would benefit from reading in one sitting.

I don’t “do” audiobooks, per se, but I do wonder if I might have got more out of Stillicide had I heard the radio series first. I’m happy to report all 12 episodes are available to listen to online — but only for a few more days!

This is my 8th book for #20BooksofSummer / #20BooksOfSouthernHemisphereWinter. I purchased it in Dymocks last January because I had read a couple of Cynan Jones‘ previous novels and loved them.

9 thoughts on “‘Stillicide’ by Cynan Jones”

    1. I wonder if that’s why I didn’t fully engage with it. Also, when I bought it, I hadn’t clocked it was dystopian. His other books are very rural & pastoral; this is a real change in direction!


  1. This does sound very different from his other work, books like The Dig where the flashes of brutality are tempered by a sense of compassion or humanity. Even so, I’m sufficiently intrigued by the premise to listen along to the audios. Thanks for the tip about the deadline – I shall endeavour to get to it this week!


    1. Hi Jacqui… yes, it’s very different to his other work and not quite what I expected when I began reading. I bought it in hardcover without even reading the blurb because I’ve loved his previous novels and was expecting more of the same. It’s beautifully written, as per usual, but I think with everything that’s happened this year re: pandemic, I just wasn’t in the mood for something quite so dystopian.


    1. I think it does require a certain level of concentration… a level I don’t currently have. LOL. I would like to go back and re-read it at some point though… I’m sure it would “gel” more if I read it at a time I had more focus.


  2. I listed to this on the BBC Sounds app, so the radio version. I do plan to read it too, but I think it would need one to two sessions really otherwise it would just get a bit disjointed as you found. It is a departure in terms of subject in some regards, but in others it’s still about people and landscape and it felt to me in a continuum with his other work.

    Not sure it’s a good read for when one’s already feeling a bit stressed, but then I’m not sure any Jones would be.

    I thought the language was good, as always with Jones, and I thought he did a really good job at bringing his (frankly depressing) world to life in a very short space.


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