I have seen this book cover so many times, and thought that I needed to read this book! All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld won the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award and I was in my second year of business at the time, so my reading was declining. But I noticed the book then, and I finally read it over the last couple of weeks.
What an impact it left on me! I finished it at 10:30pm a couple of nights ago, and I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards. The story is one that is lingering with me, days after completion. I love books with that impact!
The story follows a very damaged young Australian woman. The chapters alternate, and at first I thought there was two characters. Both stories lines were moving forward in time, but then the Australian chapters started moving backwards in time, and I realised that it was all the same character. At some point, she had moved to a little island off the English coast, to escape.
I kept making assumptions about our main character, Jake – about what had happened to her, but each time the storyline moved backwards one step, I learnt that my assumptions were wrong. The forward moving story in the present has her beginning to learn to trust a man again – the man is a safe man, because he doesn’t want anything from her sexually. This storyline also seems to have her mental health descending, because we think she’s seeing things.
But the final two chapters finally reveal why she has been running away and how she got her injuries. And that she’s learned to trust again, and that she’s not crazy!
The writing leaves a lot of space for imagination, which I love. It’s not overly descriptive. The writing really “shows, not tells”. But in the showing, I think there’s a lot left to the interpretation of the reader. What kept me awake after finishing it was all the unanswered little questions, and all the possible answers to those questions. So many readers could come to different conclusions about those little answers, since the story is just in broad brush strokes.
The trouble and painful mindset of the main character, Jake, is in stark contrast with the beauty of the writing. This is how I think some horrible things can happen in the book, but Wyld can get away with it – because every detail is not described. It’s hard to have a character be so self-destructive, when there was probably forgiveness possible if she had allowed it. But this is life, captured on the page. Succinct and raw.