All the Birds, Singing is Evie Wyld’s second novel, winning the Miles Franklin Award in 2014. Wyld grew up in Australia and South London, two continents that figure importantly in the book: Jake Whyte (a sheep farmer now living on a British island) has a seedy past from her youth in Australia. She’s tried to escape the people and events that still haunt her, but something (or someone) has started to kill her sheep.
The story is largely contemporary realism with a reverse-bildungsroman narrative that toys with elements of paranoia and suspense with a whiff of the fantastical to make you question what you know so far. This book was chosen for a book club I attend on the South Coast and as soon as I read the first paragraph, I was thankful:
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.
Wyld is a master of visceral and intense imagery, her writing full of grit and guts. I’m a sucker for great imagery, so this book immediately grabbed me as being a winner. But as with all great books, there’s much more to it than that. I felt for Jake almost instantly, and could tell there was a darkness in her past that was as heartbreaking as it was intriguing.
The narrative itself has chapters flicking between the present (on the British island farm) with the story moving forward to discover who/what is killing the sheep, and Jake’s past (in Australia) which moves backwards in time as we discover the awful events that lead her to travel across the world to escape. I loved this structure, as it was something I’ve toyed with in my own writing, and was chuffed to see that it can be pulled off (though others in my book club would disagree).
The further you read the present simultaneously played out against the past, the more you come to realise that all may not be as it seems. This is one of those books that, even after the ending, you have multiple theories as to what actually happened. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
I think Wyld has written a page-turner, and while the ending may not have wrapped everything up neatly and given us solid closure, there’s a refined quality to storytelling that does just that: tells the story and leaves you to make up your own mind.
Despite the lacklustre ending, All the Birds, Singing was a great read that ticked a lot of boxes for me in terms of technique and story. If you enjoy books that are willing to take risks with structure and theme, then check out All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. You can read a sample of the first chapter here, or follow Wyld on Twitter.
Read more about All the Birds, Singing at the Random House website.