All the Birds, Singing, is marvellous. I woke up this morning and thought, “I can read that Evie Wyld book!” Then I got home from work and felt the same.
It’s been a while since I felt that much enjoyment just from the words the author uses and the scenes she paints.
The story is about two mysterious strands in Jake Whyte’s life, past and present. Jake has settled on a remote British island, but is fleeing from something in her childhood/early adulthood in Australia.
The mystery of the present involves the deaths, one by one, of Jake’s sheep. There is menace on the island regarding who she can and can’t trust out of her fellow sheep shearers,
It’s got the subtle hallmarks of a proper mystery too, with all sorts of red herrings laid out in sight on the way. Although like Jake herself, the book is very much: “Here I am. I’m not going to explain myself, or fit myself to anything. I’m just here.” Characterisation is sparsely drawn, reflecting Jake’s wariness of the world, but effective. She doesn’t dwell over much on others’ motivations or histories, just tells it as she sees it.
I do admire it when an author makes every moment count, and that’s true of this book, which is quite short at just over 200 pages, but intense. And boy, does it get intense. But there are some lovely moments of humanity, and a lot of the tenderness that the reader really needs from a book so as not to become overwhelmed comes from the moments with the animals – the way Jake cares for her sheep, and the way she and her dog rely on each other.
The most interesting thing about this book was the way in which it tackled the problem of current Western literature being largely about addressing the problems of the middle classes, using the language of the middle classes. How can we use language differently, to convey different ways of thinking, without producing a piece of art that feels in some way curtailed or limited? In finding a solution to this problem, All the Birds, Singing excelled.