All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Pantheon, April 2014)-An isolated British island is the main setting for this riveting novel. Jake Whyte lives with her collie, Dog, on a sheep farm on the island, and she’s as close to peace as she’s ever been, but when someone, or something, starts brutally killing her sheep, she doesn’t know where to turn. The local law enforcement is friendly, but not at all helpful, and Jakes own ghosts are threatening to overwhelm her. When a stranger shows up in her shed, she reluctantly lets him in, and a very unlikely friendship slowly takes root, even as the author reveals the utter darkness that Jake is forever running from.
All the Birds, Singing is a wonderfully strange, compulsively readable story, and if its non-linear telling seems confusing at first, don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it, and Wyld uses this to draw out tension to near unbearable effect. You know immediately that Jake is kind of hiding out from someone, and once that someone is revealed, you’ll think that’s what’s haunting Jake so completely, but while that time in her life is harrowing, and those passages disturbing and sometimes downright scary, it’s another, earlier, event that really started Jake’s journey and set her on such a self-destructive path. Wyld’s writing is lovely, even when she’s detailing an act of casual violence (of which Jake’s life is rife with.) I’ve read few novels that capture a sense of place so perfectly and she handles Jake’s humanity without flinching. Jake’s nothing if not pragmatic and she has a keen survival instinct. If you think you’d never do some of the things Jake does to survive, don’t be so quick to judge. Many things make up Jake, and the author shakes out the sheets pretty thoroughly, but not all at once, and even though much of the book is dark, that’s ok, it just serves to highlight the moments of beauty and joy that Jake takes from the very simplest of things. I kind of loved this book, and if this is any indication, Evie Wyld is an author to keep your eye on. Don’t expect a tidy ending, and you’ll surely have a few questions when the book ends, but that’s not the purpose of this book. It’s an examination of a life, and if there are heartbreaking moments, there are some achingly lovely, and redemptive ones, as well. Captivating.