Evie Wyld's 'All the Birds, Singing' is Dark, Ominous, and Beautiful
Evie Wyld's new novel All the Birds, Singing (Pantheon) is darkly menacing and quietly terrifying. The book is a story of loss, loneliness, and the power of the past to keep you always looking over your shoulder. It's a must-read for anyone looking for an artful scare.
The novel follows Jake Whyte, a recluse who lives in an old farmhouse on a dreary British island with only a dog named Dog and a flock of sheep for company. She's perfectly content with the arrangement, having left behind a complicated past back in her native Australia, one that she'd rather forget. But not all is well in Jake's new life. Her sheep are being picked off by someone or something, there are rumors of a local beast, and then there's the strange man who appears on the island.
Interspersed among the chapters from Jake's life in Britain, which proceed forward in time, are vignettes from Jake's earlier life in Australia which progress backwards, from Jake as an adult who works as a sheep shearer all the way back into her childhood. Through this progression, the reader slowly comes to understand exactly what Jake is running from.
A sense of darkness and impending danger runs throughout the novel. The story appropriately opens to a dead and disemboweled sheep found on cold and rainy day, and the menacing signs don't stop there. Baby Guinea pigs fed to a pet snake, a crushed pigeon, a smashed greenhouse. The novel carries with it a sense that everything is going wrong and that something is lurking out there. It might be the past come calling or a dangerous stranger or a legendary monster or the boogie man himself, but something is about.
Even the prose itself lends itself to this feeling. The coffee pot doesn't shake, it has a "death rattle." Night fall becomes a "fast darkening sky." Thoughts of being "tied left to rot in the long dry grasses" is followed immediately by the smell of "fat and eggs frying." The story builds tension partly through its ominous events, but just as ominous is the prose itself which paints for the readers a world that is inherently threatening, giving us the sense that things could go horribly wrong at any moment, with no warning.
Yet the prose can also be beautiful. Lines like, "The land seemed to be watching me, feeling my foreignness in it, holding its breath until I passed by," deepen the reader's sense of the world of the novel as a cold, inhospitable place, but they are also just gorgeous writing.
And yet despite all the fear and foreboding, the book's protagonist is no damsel in distress. Jake may be haunted and damaged, but she's still strong and stubborn. Her past has left her more bitter than broken, and more tired than anything. Yet she still carries on, a survivor. And as the harsh world seems to circle in around her, the reader will keep on turning pages, heart in her throat, to make sure she keeps on surviving.