Review of All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

All the Birds, SingingThe first thing to say about this book is that the prose is just stunning. It had me hooked from the first lines:

Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. I shoved my boot in Dog’s face to stop him from taking a string of her away with him as a souvenir, and he kept close by my side as I wheeled the carcass out of the field and down into the woolshed.

This first paragraph establishes the tone for a book which will be quite bleak and unflinching, with sometimes horrific events described in a matter-of-fact voice, imbuing them with that much added power.

The structure is quite clever and very effective, with two interlocking narratives, one in the present day moving forward, and the other in the past moving further backward. Both are narrated in the first person by a woman called Jake—the present-day narrative is in past tense, and the past narrative is in present tense. It’s an odd effect, which creates some useful uncertainty about how things fit together early on, and then seems quite seamless and unobtrusive later on, when you’re used to the pattern.

In the present day, Jake is living an isolated life as a sheep farmer on a remote island off the coast of England, with someone or something creeping around at night and killing her sheep. In the past, she’s working as a sheep shearer in the Australian outback, running from some deep secret in her past.

The book strikes a nice balance between revealing and concealing. The Australian section dives further back into the past and explains much of what Jake is so scared of and much of what has damaged her psychologically, but the present-day section on the island is quite inconclusive, leaving a lot to the reader’s imagination. To be honest, the present-day narrative felt a bit too inconclusive for my liking, but I understand why Wyld did it that way. And I prefer books to leave too much room for reader interpretation than too little.

In both of Evie Wyld’s novels so far, the main thing I’ve enjoyed has been the writing itself, the powerful descriptions and the well-crafted dialogue. I get the feeling that I’m in the hands of a writer who really knows what she’s doing, and it makes the reading experience so pleasurable from line to line, from page to page. But both novels have also presented me with fascinating, flawed, emotionally damaged characters, and convincing explorations of how they came to be that way.

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There are 4 comments

  1. I missed this when it came through Andrew. A wonderful review of a book I really liked to too. Mesmerising prose, and the structure worked really well. Like you, I do prefer books to be less resolved than more. Your last sentence encapsulates the reading experience well I think.

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