All the Light We Cannot See.
Such strong Tournament of Book contenders. Such deserving shortlisted books.
And so often talked about online.
But what about All the Birds, Singing?
There has been less interest, less hype.
Even the ToB staff note that it wasn’t their pick. They asked an independent bookstore, The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn for one title:
“the single 2014 title that they pushed into customers’ hands most often and most passionately for inclusion on our list. To be frank, the novel they came to us with, All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, was not even on our radar.”
Yup, it wasn’t even on their radar!
But there is something unforgettable about this book. This book at once quiet and lonely, at once fierce and determined.
Wyld has such a way with words. She is not afraid to throw us right into the ugly, the menacing, with the death of a sheep.
The book opens with:
“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding”
Yes, this is a story in which there are sheep. And not just some sheep wandering in the background but we are reading about the life of a sheep farmer. A female sheep farmer on a little outcrop of an unnamed British island. Her name is Jake. Her dog is named Dog. Something (or is it someone?) is messing with her sheep. And she’s a bit of unusual one, being female for one thing, then more or less keeping to herself on this island.
Wyld tells us her story in two ways. One, a current version, her life on the island, sheep farming, mysterious sheep deaths, discomfort with the rest of the islanders, that kind of thing. The other, is her past, except it’s told in reverse. It is odd initially when you realize what is happening with the narrative. But Wyld is such a writer that you feel confident stepping backwards with her.
We soon realize that the big question mark that we are pursuing isn’t the sheep-killer but the reasons for Jake’s presence on this island. Why is she here? Why is she all this way across the world from her remote Australian town? And why is she alone?
All the Birds, Singing is a rocky windswept kind of read. I love how it is full of contrasts. The blustery chill of the English isle. The dry baking heat of Australia. That steady pace as we read of her life, a bit uncomfortable, on the island, alternating with that backwards step in time on the other side of the world.
Jake is fearless. And so is Evie Wyld.
I am so completely in awe of what she has done here.
Evie Wyld was born in London and grew up in Australia and South London. She studied creative writing at Bath Spa and Goldsmiths University. Her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers, the Commonwealth Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin literary award. In 2013 she was included on Granta Magazine’s once a decade Best of Young British Novelists list.
Her second novel All the Birds, Singing won the Miles Franklin Award, the Encore Award and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Sky Arts Times Breakthrough Award and longlisted for the Stella Prize and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
She runs Review, a small independent bookshop in Peckham, south London.