Evie Wyld’s first novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, won a raft of awards. Since her debut novel Wyld has been widely applauded for her skill as a novelist securing herself a well deserved place on the Granta’s list of best British novelists under the age of 40.
Although she now lives and works in London, Wyld was brought up on a sugar-cane farm in northern NSW. Her upbringing informs this novel with detailed description of Australia’s rugged land. Sheep, spiders and carpet snakes all make appearances along with Australian men, none of whom you would want to go home with.
Jake Whyte, the main protagonists, narrates her fractured story. The novel opens in the present with Jake living alone in an old farmhouse on an isolated English island. Her only companion is Dog and occasionally Don, the former owner, who makes brief appearances. She is mistrusted by the locals for not integrating within their small community.
Strange things begin happening to the sheep on her farm and she is convinced that there is a presence watching her, killing her flock. As Jake grapples with these strange happenings her former life unfolds, a life of struggle and despair.
The tale switches from present day on the island to the past in Australia, a past Jake is clearly fleeing from. Narrated by Jake in non-chronological order she reveals her estrangement from her family, her life as a sheep shearer, the only woman referred to constantly as a bloke, and her flight from prostitution into the arms of Otto, a man who kidnaps her and keeps her for himself. Wyld’s skill as a storyteller brings all the strands of Jake’s story together in a puzzle that when pieced together uncovers the character of Jake Whyte, justifying her behaviour in the present.
All the Birds, Singing, an upbeat title that defies the book’s content, is a dark tale set to the backdrop of a rugged, harsh land. The complex structure of the novel is deftly handled by Wyld. Much is left unanswered; with gaps the reader must fill heightening the suspense. It is an intriguing novel and one of the literary must reads of the year.
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