TagEvie Wyld

Giveaway winner and a new Juli Zeh review

A short post to round up a couple of recent bits and pieces. First of all, congratulations to Gareth Beniston who won my Yoko Ogawa giveaway.

DecompressionSecond, there’s a new issue of Shiny New Books online, in which I have a couple of reviews. Brand new is a review of Juli Zeh’s intriguing Decompression (translated from the German by John Cullen), which centres on a love triangle involving a diving instructor and his latest client, and becomes a game of control where you can’t quite be sure who to believe. Elsewhere in the issue, you’ll also find an expanded version of my original blog post on All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, which recently picked up three awards within the space of eight days, and with very good reason.

“You want to find one of us who chooses to be out here without a past, I’d bloody pay to see that”

Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing (2013)

As a way of setting out a novel’s stall, this opening sentence works rather well:

Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.

The novel this introduces will be unsentimental about the harsh realities of its protagonist’s life; and full of smells and other sensations, often unpleasant ones. But then there’s that image of the steamed pudding, a seemingly incongruous reference to home comforts; a suggestion, perhaps, that even this life of blood and death has its positive points for the individual who’s living it.

That individual is Jake Whyte, a woman whom we first meet living on an island somewhere off the British coast, with no company but her dog and flock of sheep. We then step into Jake’s past in Australia, where we find her working on a sheep station having clearly left somewhere in a hurry; when one of Jake’s colleagues threatens to reveal her secret unless she sleeps with him, she punches him hard enough to break his jaw – and that is the latest event we’ll see of Jake’s Australian life, because the rest of that narrative strand goes backwards chronologically.

As in her debut, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, Evie Wyld works with two parallel narratives which remain separate but nevertheless reflect and illuminate each other – and not simply because (as in this case) they chronicle stages in the same character’s life. Wyld highlights the contrasts and similarities between the environments in which Jake finds herself: she’s looking after sheep in both, and doing so is (to an extent) a means for her to escape the past. But the sheep station is a very different place from the island: life in the former, with its workers arriving from all over, is transitory; the latter feels much more like Jake’s attempt to build a permanent life for herself. That impression is underlined by the use of different tenses: Jake’s narration on the island is in the past tense, while her flashbacks are in the present tense – so the chronological present feels more stable than what (for Jake) has already happened.

Mysteries power both narratives in All the Birds, Singing. The mystery of the flashbacks is, of course, how Jake got to where she ended, and the nature of the secrets in her past. Wyld constructs this very well indeed, revealing just enough information to maintain the tension (there’s more than one revelation to be had about Jake’s history), and allowing the past to bleed into the present in ways that enrich both.

On the island, the mystery is a matter of concern for Jake: something is killing her sheep – maybe a wild animal, maybe something more human. I think there’s a clear metaphor at play here: Jake’s flock is her protection, the stability of her life; anything that threatens the sheep is then threatening the equilibrium of her life. The story of this plot strand is, for me, the story of how Jake finds a place among the community of people on the island, rather than just living by herself. Jake befriends a man named Lloyd, which allows her to build a relationship from first principles, as it were; after we’ve seen Jake verbally outmanoeuvred in a few conversations with islanders early on, there’s a strong note of optimism to her thought about Lloyd: “He doesn’t know me.

The ending of All the Birds, Singing (perhaps I should say ‘endings’ because of the two strands,  but I still think of the ending as a complete ‘unit’) takes a turn into an unexpected place, and for me it works perfectly – it shows how far Jake has come, balanced with a bitter note of irony. It puts the cap on another fine piece of work by Evie Wyld.

Elsewhere
Some other reviews of All the Birds, Singing: Savidge Reads; Fran Slater for Bookmunch; …but books are better.

Granta Best Young British Novelists 2013: Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, a Still Small Voice was one of my favourite reads of 2009; so naturally I’ve been looking forward to her second novel, All the Birds, Singing (published in June). Her Granta piece, ‘After the Hedland’, is taken from that novel. We meet Jake, a woman on a sheep station somewhere in Australia; she’s on the run, but her past is about to catch up with her.

‘After the Hedland’ is perhaps best seen as a portrait of a period in Jake’s life. Wyld captures the rough edges and physicality of Jake’s work and lifestyle. Jake herself proves to be an intriguing character: I ended up wanting to know more about where she’d come from and where she was going – which takes me back to anticipating the novel once more.

This is part of a series of posts on Granta 123: Best of Young British Novelists 4Click here to read the rest.

Update, 11/08/13

I’ve now read All the Birds, Singing, and you’ll find my review here. Doing that has certainly changed the context of ‘After the Hedland’ – I don’t think I twigged that its three sections were arranged in reverse chronological order, for one thing. And my comment about wanting to know more about where Jake had come from and where she was going makes me smile now I’ve read the book; unwittingly, I was closer to it than I could have imagined.

Still: ‘Corridor’ by Evie Wyld

The photograph: the end of a wood-panelled corridor. Light streams in through the windows in a door to the left; but the dark wood and the solid wall ahead make the overall feeling oppressive.

The story: a very short piece whose narrator describes how her childhood self tried to keep bad dreams at bay by imagining a corridor as a neutral space. Wyld keeps the atmosphere suitably unsettling, and any hope she offers comes with its own nagging doubt.

Link: Evie Wyld’s website

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Still. Click here to read the rest.

Orange Award for New Writers 2010: The shortlist

This morning, the shortlist for this year’s Orange Award for New Writers was announced; and, since it includes one of my favourite books from last year, I thought I’d blog the nominees. The full list is:

Jane Borodale, The Book of Fires

Irene Sabatini, The Boy Next Door

Evie Wyld, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice

I loved Evie Wyld’s book, so I’m very pleased to see it shortlisted — and I’ll be interested to discover how the other two titles compare. Congratulations to all three nominees!

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice (2009) by Evie Wyld

I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I came across Evie Wyld’s excellent short story ‘Menzies Meat’ in the summer. In the intervening months, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice has won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and received near-unanimous praise – now here’s some more.

What’s particularly striking about the novel, looking back on it as a whole, is how quiet it is; it’s probably the quietest book I’ve read all year. Its tone is quiet, its theme is quietness – the things that aren’t said, and the possible consequences of not saying them. Wyld’s debut is a character study revolving around two men: one is Frank, who leaves his life in present-day Canberra to live in a remote shack his grandparents owned, and hopes that the past will stay where he left it. The second man is Leon, whom we follow from childhood: his father leaves home to fight in the Korean War, but struggles with life when he returns, so much so that he ends up fleeing. Leon’s mother goes in search of her husband, leaving the young man to cope on his own – and then Leon receives a letter of conscription for Vietnam. Leon, by the way, is Frank’s father.

Typing that last sentence almost feels like a spoiler, though there’s no real reason why it should. It’s not that Wyld is keeping the relationship secret to provide a surprise twist; rather, it’s that the story she tells never demands the connection be stated. The two narratives are kept separate, and there’s a gap between the young Leon and the father we glimpse in Frank’s tale (we can speculate on what drives Leon to become the man he is in the present, but we don’t have the full story). In effect, the central father-son relationship of the novel is hardly in the novel at all – the theme of silence between men (and between generations of men) is reflected at the broadest structural level.

That same theme is also there at the level of plot, as both protagonists have to deal with the consequences of things left unspoken. Frank doesn’t reveal much about himself to the people of his new town, which comes back to bite him before novel’s end; and Leon finds it hard to talk to his father when the latter returns from service – even after so long apart, silence around the dinner table seems more appropriate than facile questions that could never reveal the truth of what Leon’s father witnessed.

There’s silence, too, in the very language of the book. This is a novel in which sensations seem more prominent than actions. Wyld is a great writer of description; here, for example, is Leon after hearing that his father has been caught:

At school things caught at his hair and plucked at the back of his trousers. His pen moved slowly across the page, ink swelled into the paper. He felt himself trapped between the bone and flesh of his face, and he couldn’t move. Everyone else’s hands moved at impossible speed over their work, the noises of the classroom were high-pitched and speeded up, made no sense. He felt his own body, a sluggish weight, pale and thick, a rock with a wooden shell. With effort he stood up…he walked out of the classroom, away from the school, heavy enough that he might sink into the ground and suffocate, or else fall on the pavement and shatter into splinters.

After the Fire is full of such vivid imagery (of place as well as of feeling) that jumps out; but there are also highly significant points which come across as relatively subdued. For example, when we first learn that Frank beat his wife, it’s dropped in casually; one might even have to go back and re-read, just to check that’s what has been revealed. Character hints are dropped in subtly, suggesting that these are things the protagonist don’t know about themselves. Frank doesn’t know why he gets so aggressive, for example; nor does Leon understand what makes him want to photograph a boy he kills in Vietnam – and we don’t comprehend the minds of these characters, either. Though we see the novel through their eyes, there is still much they don’t (or can’t) tell us.

I don’t know whether I’d go so far as to call Frank and Leon antiheroes; but they’re not entirely sympathetic protagonists, either. What we have here, I think, is a portrait of two flawed men trying to cope with life’s challenges the best they can – which isn’t necessarily the best way there could be. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice tells a very real story; and, quiet though it may be, it’s a novel that resounds loudly.

Sunday Salon: Evie Wyld, Zoe Green

I’ve just discovered the Sunday Salon and thought I’d join in. What I’m going to do is read and blog about some short stories online. I’ll link to each story so you can read it for yourself. For this first post, I’ve decided to tackle a couple of stories from Untitled Books.

‘Menzies Meat’ by Evie Wyld takes us to the tiny mining town of Menzies in Western Australia; and Elaine, the sixteen-year-old girl who works in her father’s butcher shop there. Elaine is frustrated at being stuck in a rut and longs to get out of Menzies; the story is essentially a portrait of how her frustration builds to a head, until… but that, of course, would be telling. At first, the narrative seems to be going all over the place, but the reason becomes clear in the end: everything — from the stifling atmosphere of the shop to the salt lake that looks the same whether it’s full or dry — is an expression or mirror of Elaine’s feeling of inertia. Wyld conjures that feeling vividly.

Zoe Green’s ‘The Wake’ is narrated by someone (who could be male or female; I’m not certain) who is dying of cancer, and currently planning their own funeral, as they watch Hester (who lives in the flat below) in the garden. The action moves, paragraph by paragraph, between the present moment, the narrator’s own life (as they ruminate especiallyon an ex-lover, Ferdi), and scenes from Hester’s past. There are some quite subtle moments of characterisation, as the narrator tries (not all that successfully) to live through Hester — so the title doesn’t just refer to the ceremony being planned; for the narrator, the telling of the story itself is a kind of wake. As with ‘Menzies Meat’, this tale grows richer the more you turn it over in your mind.

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