There’s a heat that permeates Evie Wyld’s truly wonderful second novel: a beating pulse of brutality that accompanies the story of Jake Whyte, a woman living alone on a sparsely populated British island.
Upon reading the first sentence—“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding”—I couldn’t help but make what I thought to be an ironic comparison with Camus’ (admittedly more succinct) “Mother died today” from L’Étranger. And yet as I read on I realised that this connection was not so absurd after all: the intensity and beautifully described ordinariness of Whyte’s world really was reminiscent of Camus’ existential masterpiece.
A dual structure is adopted in All the Birds, Singing, whereby we learn of Jake’s current life on the island and her former life in Australia. As the Australia story moves backwards, the island story moves forwards, serving (through Wyld’s elegant, yet economic prose) to maintain a balance between past, present and future – for Whyte a journey of haunting, surviving and escaping.
Indeed, this sumptuous novel is full of unsettling revelations that go far beyond the mysterious sheep deaths, painting a world ruthlessly hostile to women with muscular menace, yet in a tone that rejects prurience or pity. What I love about this novel is that seemingly throwaway lines such as ”When I could find no further reasons for not being in bed …” capture a sense of fragility and alienation with an enviable lightness of touch. Camus wrote of the “gentle indifference of the world” and although All the Birds, Singing is rarely gentle, it manages to explore the nihilism of the sentiment with breathtaking eloquence.