I think it would be fair to say that Evie Wyld’s second novel, ‘All The Birds, Singing’, is one of the books that I have been most excited about reading this year. Back in December 2009, way back before she was (rightly) included in the Granta Best Young British novelists, when I first read her debut ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ I said “I thought this was a marvelous piece of work, an incredibly impressive debut, I think Wyld is definitely an author to watch out for in the future.” Having read ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and spending a few days thinking about it, and possibly hugging it, I initially thought it was bloody good now after more mulling I think it is a masterpiece… so it seems I was right with my prediction.
“Another sheep, mangled and bled our, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” And so starts ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and so we find our heroine Jake as she takes in the sight before her, another of her sheep has been mutilated, killed by some ‘thing’. Yet what is the ‘thing’ that could be killing her flock one by one? Could it be the local kids who think she is some out of town witch? Could it be the neighbours’ crazy son? Could it be a monster, be it real, imagined or from Jake’s hidden past? Could it be linked to the sudden appearance of a new ‘incomer’ in the area?
As we read on we realise there is going to be a lot more to Jake, and indeed ‘All The Birds, Singing’ than meets the eye. Jake has clearly taken herself as far away from the world and place of her childhood, Australia, as it could be possible to be. She has hidden herself and even alienated herself from everyone around her. But why? Now I am not, of course, going to tell you because Wyld herself plays a master stroke of leaving it until quite literally the very end of the book to find out. Thus adding a thrilling sense of you simply bursting to know both what the hell is out there in the fields and the forests in the now and just what the hell happened to send her there now. The unease of her present mixed with the unknown of her past becomes equally unnerving and intriguing as the book continues.
“I slammed the fridge and lent my head against it. Stupid to have become so comfortable. The fridge hummed back in agreement. Stupid to think it wouldn’t all fall to shit. That feeling I’d had when I first saw the cottage, squat and white like a chalk pebble at the black foot of the downs, the saafety of having no one nearby to peer in at me – that felt like an idiot’s lifetime ago. I felt at the side of the fridge for the axe handle.”
The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.
It is also Jakes character, along with Wyld’s prose throughout, which makes the book a real stand out. She is barbed, brittle and rather damaged, yet in the same vein and with the way she loves her sheep she is also gentle and, with the way she jumps at the smallest thing, rather fearful and mistrusting. She is a dangerous dichotomy, which can be compelling but there is also the question of whether we should trust her, how reliable is she and just what on earth is being kept from us. It all creates a heady mix.
Throw in some corking set pieces like a sex scene which will have any reader with arachnophobia utterly hysterical in both senses, ghostly apparitions and spending nights alone on a farm with Jake that could be taken from a horror story and you have the reader undergo the full spectrum of emotions from horror to hilarity and back again. Like ‘All The Birds, Singing’ it is a book that stands alone, it isn’t like anything else. That said, some people are comparing Wyld to Du Maurier, I love both and can see the link yet I think Wyld is an author in her own right and doesn’t need to be likened to anyone if I am truthful.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book. It is one of those rare books you read (‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris spring to mind) that you feel the author actually wrote for you as it chimes with you so much. I asked Evie if she had, she hadn’t, rude. It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I liked it even more than its predecessor. I want ‘All The Birds, Singing’ to win awards it isn’t even eligible for, most of all I want it to be read by YOU! Simple as that.