Australian-born author Evie Wyld’s novels ask tough questions without seeking easy answers. In her debut, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, she explored the impact of World War II and the Vietnam War on a single Australian family. Her new book, All the Birds, Singing, follows Jake Whyte, a young Australian woman living on a remote sheep farm on an island off the coast of England. When someone—or something—attacks her sheep, Jake is plunged into paranoia, brought on in part by her isolation, but also because of the secrets she carries about her childhood.
All the Birds, Singing has two narrative strands. The first follows Jake as she tries to track down the beast that threatens her livelihood. The second moves back in time, slowly piecing together—in reverse—what led her from family and friends to the lonely English outpost.
Where the English side of the story is fueled by disembodied fears and perhaps even a ghostly creature, the Australian side is rooted in clear memory and the kind of cause-and-effect storytelling made more powerful because it is told in reverse. It is to Wyld’s credit that she can maintain the mystery until the final pages.
Wyld excels in the intimate details that make up the relationship between humans and animals. Both continents are rich with flora and fauna—sheep, of course, but also blowflies, spiders and the singing birds of the title. Best of all are Jake’s interactions with the dogs in the novel, her faithful companion Dog and the decidedly creepy Kelly, a four-legged Mrs. Danvers.
Despite Jake’s gruff exterior, this is not a book about loneliness or even isolation. There are moments of connection and human kindness, from her fellow sheep shearers in Australia to her crusty English neighbor, Don. When a stranger named Lloyd shows up on her farm, he is less a menace than a fellow wounded soul, and the novel suggests that theirs is a friendship that could deepen. Wyld once again creates a complex character who may find recovery in small acts of kindness.