All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

20727987Fiction — audiobook. Read by Cat Gould. Blackstone Audio, 2014. 6 hours, 51 minutes. Library copy.

Wyld’s novel straddles time and space — its main character Jake Whyte, a woman in the male-dominated sheep industry, lives on an unnamed British island during the odd chapters and spends the even chapters growing up outside of Darwin, Australia. The older Jake lives alone and is distraught to find one of her sheep has been killed by someone — or, something — in the night every few nights. Those few people in the community she associates with blame the loss on foxes or bored teenagers but Jake is convinced something more sinister is to blame and must confront the beast lurking in her past.

Do not listen to Wyld’s book on audio. The structure of the novel – the alternating between past in even-numbered chapters and the present in odd-numbers chapters – does not lend itself well to audio because, at least in my case, I did not always catch that the chapter number had changed. The past is also told in reverse — the fallout coming before the event — so readers need to be well grounded in the book as they are cast adrift in time.

That said, Wyld’s novel is a powerful and structurally inventive — albeit bleak — read. It is a challenging read both because of the narrative structure and the content of the novel, and I felt unsettled as I waited to find out what happened to Jake that makes her so afraid to stay put, to connect with people.

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.”

The passage above is how the novel begins and demonstrates both Wyld’s powerful descriptions and her use of birds to establish the emotional undercurrent of the novel. In this case, crows represent not only the death and, therefore, sorrow but also the creepy, unease Jake feels as she walks across her property alone only to discover such a grisly scene. In other scene, when Jake is a young girl, the squawking of the birds represent the panic and fear Jake feels at yet another unfortunate event.

This is a difficult novel to review without spoilers, but I will say that Wyld slowly draws out her conclusion yet the novel ends rather abruptly. I wish the novel had continued just a bit longer, had pulled me down yet another path of exploration, although I suppose the abruptness also contributes to that unsettled feeling that permeates the novel.

Wyld requires her readers to meet her at every turn, to fill in the blanks she does not want fill, but the complexity and her beautiful writing makes for a powerful read. I can certainly see why Wyld won the Miles Franklin Award in 2014 for this novel.

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