What’s it all about?:
Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.
It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
All the Birds, Singing tells the life of an outsider. With extreme artistry and empathy, it reveals an existence of diurnal beauty, incremental horrors, stubborn hope and tentative redemption. The result is a novel of indelible emotional force.
What did I think?:
I had already heard a lot about All The Birds, Singing before I picked it up in a bookshop, attracted by the gorgeous cover as well as all of the positive reviews I had read. The author, Evie Wyld received much critical acclaim with her debut novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice which won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2009 and this, her second novel, won the Encore Award in 2013, the prestigious Miles Franklin award in 2014 as well as being long-listed and short-listed for many other awards. To say I was excited about reading it is an understatement and I certainly wasn’t let down. Take one of the opening sentences for instance:
“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.”
Delightful? Maybe not. Intriguing? Most definitely. Read on? For sure! Our main character is the reclusive Jake Whyte whom when we meet her has re-located from her native Australia to a remote island just off the main coast of England to try her hand at sheep farming and more importantly, escape a troubled past. The author sets her story out in such an interesting way – the first chapter is Jake in the present time where she is dealing with a strange dilemma. Someone or something is killing off her sheep in a brutal manner and after confirming that the local teenagers are not to blame, she begins to worry that a different and perhaps dangerous creature is to blame.
Then we have the second chapter which focuses on Jake’s life in Australia and details one of the reasons that she had to leave and is so closed-off and anti-social today. From this moment onwards her story is told in alternate chapters, her present life in England working forwards in time and the chapters in Australia are told in reverse. i.e. most recent then going backwards in time. Sounds a bit complicated and it confused me at first but when I had both stories or both “lives,” sorted in my head I thought it was a very unique way to tell a story and I’m already looking forward to re-reading it to pick up on things I may have missed.
The reader soon finds out that Jake has had an incredible, troubling and at times, heart-breaking past which explain her personality and general character at the present time. There are so many mysteries to solve as a reader that inspired me to read on – what on earth happened to Jake in Australia? Why is she so reclusive and what happened to her back to leave it so horrifically scarred? Her life up until her re-location has been challenging and always mysterious and even as the book ended I wasn’t sure that I had all the answers especially with the ending being as ambiguous as it is. However, I have enjoyed reading some of the comments and theories by other readers on GoodReads and I do believe that a lot of things are left up to the reader and their imagination to decide although the author does leave us a few tidbits or clues along the way.
This was such an excellent read and deserves all the praise and awards that come its way. I loved unravelling the whole mystery of Jake’s life and despite a slightly frustrating ending it was a beautiful piece of writing that confirms Evie Wyld as a talented and promising author for the future. The prose is lyrical and irresistible and the author does not shy away from gritty, frightening and bold statements and situations. There is one particular instance I am thinking about that involves one of my worst fears, spiders, that will remain etched in my memory forever because of this book and still gives me the shivers just to think about months down the line! I’ll certainly be reading her debut novel and will watch out for anything else she does on the strength of All The Birds, Singing.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):