...one of the most haunting and beautifully crafted novels I have read in a long time ... Some readers might find the premise of the novel (Bellman’s search for monsters) difficult to navigate, and just too quixotic. But, once you accept it, the novel blossoms. Davies, as she showed in her previous books, is immensely generous towards her characters — a gift of empathy that is hard to resist. She is comfortable, too, inhabiting different voices, and is subtle and rounded in her characterisation ... There is something of the fairy tale about Davies’s book. And like the best fairy tales, it is filled with wonder, about the natural world, and about humans and their impractical dreams. Davies has produced something quite wonderful in West. This is a gently seductive book, one that entrances right to its cleverly conceived end.
As Cy stumbles westward, oblivious to the futility of his quest, such is Davies’ command of her material that she makes of him not merely an object of comedy, or pity, but of empathy ... A multi-faceted gem of a book, West taps the spirit of the great quest novels of Twain, Melville, Cervantes, but with a gentle feminist twist and a fraction of the page count.
Davies’ background in short-story writing is evident. This recent Frank O’Connor Short Story Award-winner has a succinct, precise, and even lyrical style of writing. At 149 pages, this is a book you could read in an afternoon. But you won’t want to. Davies’ prose is something you’ll want to savor ... I believe that Davies has achieved something striking in this small volume: As Frederick Jackson Turner viewed American history through the lens of the frontier, she has examined the power — and perhaps failure — of storytelling through the lens of the American West.
A Welsh native now living in northern England, Davies conjures the frontier ethos and landscape in a spare yet elegant prose. Her imagery and cadences glide beautifully into place ... Davies deftly exposes her characters’ magical thinking, how we’re all too eager to sacrifice our most intimate relationships in pursuit of personal Manifest Destinies. From a distance, West looks like a slim fable; but a closer view reveals a peculiarly American self-delusion, opening up like a vast prairie. Davies is an audaciously talented writer to watch.
In her slim first novel...not a word is wasted; the canvas is as wide as her brush is fine ... Extinction and collective loss, then, are the dark shadows cast by this story of individualistic folly and ambition, the counternarrative to all the endless possibilities projected on to the 'unexplored' west. With marvellous economy, Davies maps the 'large, unknown interior territory' where Bellman hopes to find his beasts on to her characters’ inner landscapes. Her narrative world includes vast open spaces of both incomprehension and possibility ... The novel is studded with lists: of the meagre contents of Bellman’s house, the things he takes with him, the geegaws the settlers trade in exchange for an entire way of life ... One of the most unsettling elements is Davies’s vein of dark, gleaming humour. Her writing manages the odd feat of seeming both timeless and historically specific, and her comedy is no exception ... There are many worlds to explore within this deceptively short book, which gallops towards its conclusion with a mythic inevitability. You won’t be able to turn back.
...[a] masterful debut novel ... Davies’ economical approach, in the form of short chapters and concise prose, is incredibly effective. She offers just enough narrative for the reader to connect with characters and engage with the plot. But from chapter to chapter, Davies leaves much unsaid, which in turn leaves the reader feeling as vulnerable and full of wonder as the book’s main characters. West is an engrossing work of historical fiction grappling with themes of vulnerability, longing and hope that transcend all contexts.
In a tightly knit, compulsively readable tale, Davies precisely captures the spirit of untamed curiosity and middle-aged ennui that would have us abandon established societal norms and everything we hold dear only to follow our hearts to uncertain outcomes.
Davies’s writing is so lovely throughout, her vision so interesting, that I wish I could only praise ... Extreme coincidence can work sometimes in Davies’s short stories, to highlight irony, but the mountain of impossible coincidence at the end of West is staggering ... The problem is that there’s no drama possible in West ... No character can push at another to reveal who they are. So the substitute is action ... West is too short and undeveloped to be a novel. And although it has the length, lovely compressed language and fast pacing of a novella, it lacks the form’s dramatic focus and intensity, the unity of dramatic action. Davies is an excellent writer whom you should read, but her strengths of surprise and coincidence don’t work in this longer narrative ... Because I’m a fan of Davies’s stories, I desperately wanted West to succeed, but it simply does not.
Their haphazard, perilous, and occasionally dreamlike traipse is mesmerizing, as is the complex relationship that develops between the two. Though the ending may come across as formulaic, it is nonetheless dramatically satisfying and doesn’t detract from this otherworldly novel.
Davies’ slim, complex, and achingly beautiful first novel is a sculpture of daring shifts and provocative symmetries welded together by lyrical, fast-paced prose. Davies dispenses with troublesome thousand-mile wildernesses in a sentence and dashes between the minds of both principal and ancillary characters. The result is a choral performance, reminiscent of those by Penelope Fitzgerald ... A masterful first novel—the sort of book that warms even as it devastates, that forces serious reflection and yet charms.