All the Birds, Singing

Evie Wyld

Published by Vintage 19 June 2014 UK, PantheonUS

208 pp, paperback, £8.99

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

Even the birds suffer in Wyld’s second novel, a world of pain spread over both hemispheres. Brutality and anguish are explored in tinder dry Australia as well as on some small, cold, wet British island. Women are abused, animals are burned and gutted, arsonists threaten, dogs devour. This is a tormented, near-pitiless vision.

At its heart stands Jake Whyte, a woman on the run from a sequence of dark events – a fire, a beating, a history of prostitution, incarceration by an abusive sheep farmer – all these narrated in reverse order, while the present-day, UK narrative runs chronologically. Strong and skilled with sheep but less good at human interaction, Jake has fled Australia to a small-holding in the UK and a life of self-protective isolation. But even here, there are torments and gothic threats. Something – or someone – is picking off Jake’s flock, not perhaps the vagrant she finds lurking on her land, nor maybe the delinquent son of an adjacent farmer. But what, or who? And what exactly forced her into the terrible life she led down under?

Part thriller, part psychological unravelling, Wyld’s novel guards its secrets well. Named among Granta’s most recent list of best young novelists and now winner of the Miles Franklin Award, this author writes succinct, controlled prose and isn’t afraid to focus unrelentingly on the dark side.

The answer to the book’s questions, when they come, don’t entirely satisfy and the novel’s conclusion arrives with more of a jolt than a resolution, nevertheless this is a tough, poetic and gripping account of a woman struggling to stay afloat in a man’s world, by an author of evident talent.

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