Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing (Vintage 2013)
My copy of All the Birds, Singing announces on the cover that it won the Miles Franklin Award in 2014. As I read the first chapter, which is set in a generic British countryside, I wondered about that prize, given the insistence in past years that the Miles Franklin winner had to be set in Australia. The first paragraph of the second chapter put my questioning to rest:
We are a week from the end of the job in Boodarie. I’m in the shower at the side of the tractor shed watching the thumb-sized redback that’s always sat at the top of the shower head. She hasn’t moved at all except to raise a leg when I turn on the tap, like the water’s too cold for her.
Then, as if Boodarie and the redback aren’t enough to signal that we are now in rural Australia, the next paragraph lays it on thick:
The day has been a long and hot one – the tip of March, and under the crust of the galvo roof the air in the shearing shed has been thick like soup, flies bloating about in it. […] The first stars are bright needles, and in the old Moreton Bay fig that hangs over the tractor shed and drops nuts on the roof while I sleep, a currawong and a white galah are having it out; I can hear the blood-thick bleat of them. A flying fox goes overhead and just like that the smell of the place changes and night has settled in the air.
The novel continues in alternate chapters. On an unnamed British island, the protagonist has a small sheep farm, and someone or something is killing her sheep. In Australia, some years earlier, she is a lone woman shearer, with a dark secret in her past. On the island, she has to deal with a series of men who refuse to take her story of a sheepkiller seriously. In Australia, the telling moves back in time through a series of unfortunate incidents, mostly involving physical and sexual abuse by men.
It’s a good read, but I have to tell you that if, like me, you prefer a book that sets up a mystery to arrive at a solution to that mystery, you will want, like me, to throw this one across the room when you reach the final pages.
All the Birds, Singing is the fifth book I’ve read for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I remember reading Milk at the time of its publication – very impressive. I was speaking with Gillian Bouras in Kalamata late last year about Beverley Farmer – I think there were issues with her health mentioned. I am glad that you – with some reservations – at least found her latest writing beautifully written and uncompromising in its commitment to exploring women’s experience… >
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Thanks, Jim. It sounds as if MIlk would have been a better place to stat than This Water. This comment belongs with the previous blog post, but I’m sorry I don’t know how to move it …
Your last paragraph made me laugh Jonathan. I read and liked this book around the time it won, but I have no recollection of the end. I tend not to remember endings, just how I felt about a book, and particularly its tone. I’m not sure that I do need a book to set up a mystery and then lead us to a solution because I really liked this book!
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I liked it much more on the way in than on the way out, so to speak. Someone on Librarything.com speculated that Evie Wyld had tried out a number of endings to the forward-moving story and couldn’t find one she liked, so left it up to the reader. I doubt that, myself. [SPOILER ALERT] I thought the way it worked was that the mystery (‘Who or what is killing the sheep?’) was much less interesting than the story of relationships: so once Lloyd believed her, something significant shifted in their relationship and she was no longer alone in the world. That much was terrific. But ploddingly literal minded people like me still want the mystery to be solved as well.
Thanks Jonathan … that helps the flagging memory. I wouldn’t call you literal minded given the poetry YOU read! But, I don’t remember not having the mystery solved bothering me so I must have been happy with the psychological resolution. I’m not much of a plot person. I watch TV detective shows and am barely interested in whodunnit, just in the relationships between the characters.
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