Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing* is a terrifying novel, combining bump-in-the-night horror with the kind of terror inspired by the cruelty of ordinary human beings. More than once I had to put the book down because the writing was so intense I could feel my heart pounding, and that’s pretty unusual in my reading experience.
Something — or someone — is killing Jake Whyte’s sheep. She lives alone on an unidentified British island with only her sheep and her dog (named Dog) for company, resolutely refusing calls to socialize with other locals. She’s an outsider in more way than one, though isolated, it seems, by choice. But the death of her sheep forces her into contact with other people as she searches for answers: Don, a kindly neighbor; Lloyd, a stranger whose agenda is unclear; and neighborhood kids with maybe more than mischief on their minds.
While Jake wonders who’s gutting her sheep, the reader wonders how Jake ended up on island by herself, and why she’s so gruff and frightened. As Jake works on her mystery in the present day (using the past tense), alternating chapters take us back to the past, in which Jake narrates the events that led to her leaving Australia for England, and how, exactly, she started raising sheep. These past-chapters unfurl backwards, but are narrated in the present tense, lending a firghtening immediacy to Jake’s memories of violence and fear.
Ms. Wyld’s writing is fierce, clear, and perfectly detailed. Her deft touch finds the perfect balance between intimacy and mystery as she brings Jake to life. Take this paragraph, from the first chapter:
I slammed the fridge and leant my head against it. Stupid to have become so comfortable. The fridge hummed back in agreement. Stupid to think it wouldn’t all fall to shit. That feeling I’d had when I first saw the cottage, squat and white like a chalk pebble at the black foot of the downs, the safety of having no one nearby to peer in at me — that felt like an idiot’s lifetime ago. I felt at the side of the fridge for the axe handle.
It’s the kind of writing that offers new questions even as it answers others. All the Birds, Singing is brilliant and brutal, and highly recommended.
*My thanks to the publisher for sending an advance review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.