All the Birds, Singing

10/20/2014 at 9:46 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

I found All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld on one of those prize-winning book lists. They are what I go to as a source of reference when I find myself at a loss as to what to read next. All the Birds, Singing is the winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award. 

It is about a young Australian woman living on her small sheep farm on an island off the British coast. Jake Whyte likes to live in isolation and does her best to avoid mingling with the local population. As we get to know her past, it is hard to blame her for this. Her only companion is a sheepdog called Dog. I think the author is trying to signify Jake is trying to be free of attachment. Unfortunately for Jake, her sheep are turning up dead.

The second chapter is set in a sheep station in Australia, where Jake works as a shearer. The chapters switch between Britain and Australia. But it takes a while to for the reader’s mind to adjust to the switches in geography. The chapters set in Britain portray Jake’s life and her determination to manage and care for her sheep. We learn how Jake ends up as a shearer, why she came to Britain and how she got scars on her back. Wyld is very good at feeding minuscule hints and building tension to keep the readers yearning for an ultimate conclusion. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find the end very satisfactory. But enough is already revealed so that readers know what the characters want is unlikely to happen.  Perhaps there is a hint that Jake learns how to trust again but I felt something was left unfinished. Reading this you expect find a hearty meal at the end only to find it’s just salad without even dressing. There is showing off of some experimenting with tense but that didn’t woo me.

I understood from the beginning,  All the Birds, Singing was meant as a bleak, sad story but I expected a hint of happiness by the finale. Instead it seems to be a revelation of a multitude of tragedies. Sometimes as it is narrated in the first person by Jake, you wonder if she is mentally unhinged. It wouldn’t be surprising given how traumatic a life she lived.  She notices things other people don’t see and feels fears people around her don’t understand. Lots of practical things seem to have been skipped over too – while that makes for great viewing in a movie, it makes holes in a book.

Read this review for a more positive perspective.

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