Holiday Reading 4: All the Birds, Singing

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (2013)

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (2013)

Summer book number four is something I bought in Paris last year from Shakespeare and Company, a gorgeous English-language bookstore near Notre Dame. Ah ‘in Paris’.  Apparently I’m one of those people.

This book was a bit of a random choice. I scarcely knew where to begin when I wandered into the store – with books piled high in every corner and on every surface, I was too busy trying to look in every direction at once.  The blurb revealed very little about the story, but All the Birds, Singing had a lovely cover and that was about the extend of my decision making process.

Here’s what I know now: All the Birds, Singing comes to us from a British author called Evie Wyld.  The setting of the story jumps between an unidentified British island and the Australian outback.  I always find it interesting to read a foreign author’s impression of Australia, being an Aussie girl myself.  Evie Wyld writes skilfully but this book is probably my least favourite of the summer so far.  But don’t stop reading yet! Let me elaborate.

The protagonist, Jake, is a young woman who lives in self-imposed isolation on a windswept British sheep farm.  There, she tries to escape her old life in Australia – a terrible crime she encountered as a girl and a man who held her prisoner in the outback.  But something menacing is stalking her in her new home, picking off her sheep one by one in the dark.

As I said before, Wyld is a talented writer.  One of the highlights of All the Birds, Singing is the way she evokes a beautiful sense of place – her description of the both the Australian and British landscapes were vivid, sensory and enjoyable.  However there were unfortunately a few things I didn’t enjoy about the story.  Firstly, the book is written in a highly literary style – almost poetic in places.  Often you read books with passages like this that are meant to be a little obscure and thought-provoking and usually you are able to interpret this as you read on and find our more about the plot and the characters.  I felt like All the Birds, Singing sustained this style for the most of the book.  As a result I found it hard to get into and while I enjoyed reading it once I picked it up, I was not gripped and never got a strong narrative arc to follow.

Another element that exacerbated this was the chronology of the story, which I didn’t pick up until I was at least halfway through.  The British setting is Jake’s present and the Australian setting is her past – however the Australian flashbacks seem to be in reverse chronological order.  This is incredibly confusing as we meet characters and situations that are not introduced or explained until we move further back into the past.  Now, I have read books that use this sort of structure to great effect – an example that springs to mind is On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (read my review/deranged fangirl ramblings here).  The problem with All the Birds, Singing was that I was reading and waiting for the penny to drop – for that ‘ah ha!’ moment where everything falls beautifully into place.  It never came. Maybe it was there, but clearly it was too subtle for me to pick up on.    The ending was deliberately open and heavy with symbolism – the kind of thing my high school English department would have loved. But as a grumbling simpleton, I felt unsatisfied.

Finally, there was the difficult subject matter.  Eventually, we discover that Jake spent most of her teenaged years surviving as a prostitute before being held prisoner by one of her regular clients who wants to pretend she is his niece.  In addition to all this, there are the circumstances under which Jake left home as a fifteen year old.  These are revealed at the very end of the book so I won’t give too much away for those of you who are interested in reading it for yourself.  I’ll just say that I found parts of the book quite depressing.  I don’t usually have a problem reading books with dark themes but I suppose I felt I didn’t get much of a warning going in to the story.

So I guess that’s that. I always hate to write negative reviews because reading and writing are such subjective things. All the Birds, Singing was an interesting read by an accomplished writer.  Personally, it wasn’t for me.

Next up – This House is Haunted by John Boyne (of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas renown)

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