In 2013, Evie Wyld was named as one of Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’, and her debut book, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice was nominated for several literary prizes. In her second novel, she tells the story of Jake Whyte, ‘the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island… 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.’
Vivid descriptions have been included from the very first sentence: ‘Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding’. The novel is a sensory one, and Wyld’s use of taste, smell, sight, sound and touch throughout build the imagery well.
Everything around Jake – and, one could say, everything about her character – is bleak. The coffee pot has a ‘death rattle’, the foreboding which Jake feels when she senses that she is being followed by a strange man, the haunting power of her memories, and the coarse language used throughout are merely a few examples of how Wyld builds the sense of desolation which surrounds her protagonist.
All the Birds, Singing is one of the darkest novels which I have come across in a long while. There is a sense from the beginning of the unexplained. Things are hinted at within the scope of Jake’s life, but we as readers are not given much by way of information. There are no characters who seem kind, or sympathetic in the slightest. Everyone whom Jake encounters seems obsessed with violence and exacting their rage over others. The lack of likeable characters was a real drawback for me, and it stopped me enjoying the novel as much as I would have if there had been just a single person whom I could have sympathised or empathised with. That said, All the Birds, Singing is interesting in terms of a character study.
Whilst there are many things left unsaid, a technique which really should pique the curiosity which the reader feels, the slow pace of the novel is a stumbling block which draws away from this. I very much enjoyed Wyld’s writing style, but this particular book had too many negative aspects for me personally. It is a little too dark, and some of the violent episodes throughout were a little too much for my squeamishness. All the Birds, Singing sadly did not hold my interest as much as I had hoped and expected that it would.