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A Book Review My Way — All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

As I described yesterday, I’m on a new venture — reading and reviewing as many of the books on the New York Times Notable Books of 2014 as possible.  With a twist.  I take a look at the one star reviews and some of the five star reviews and then base my review on what those have to say about the book.

So, today, we have All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.  Here’s the Book Description from Amazon:

From one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, a stunningly insightful, emotionally powerful new novel about an outsider haunted by an inescapable past: a story of loneliness and survival, guilt and loss, and the power of forgiveness.

Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rain and battering wind. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wants it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sounds a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, and rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is also Jake’s past, hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present. With exceptional artistry and empathy, All the Birds, Singing reveals an isolated life in all its struggles and stubborn hopes, unexpected beauty, and hard-won redemption.

Currently, there are 47 five star reviews, 41 four star reviews, 36 three star reviews, 15 two star reviews, and 12 one star reviews, for an average rating of 3.6.  Here are a few one star reviews:

  • I wanted to enjoy this and loved the first few chapters but as the book went on I felt the author ran out of story. Every tough thing that happened to this woman never changed her or added any depth to her character. The menace was always there never gone never explained. The ending made me understand I had just wasted a lot of time
  • Hailed as monumental and brilliantly written, I would describe this book as utterly disappointing. A poor man’s version of “Momento, ” with a touch of Shirley Jackson’s ” The Lottery” thrown in just for good measure. Lovers of good literature… I warn you off the critics glowing reviews and steer you toward other young Australian writers who create absorbing tales in crisp prose without the cliche noir heroine with the boy’s name Jake — never explained. In an interesting conceit the Jake’s last name is Whyte – a tribute perhaps to the author whose last name is Wyld?
    When the book opens Jake is raising sheep on a desolate farm somewhere in England. How she got there is never revealed. We do know that something dark and unknown is killing off her sheep. Is it supernatural? is it a bear? is it a person? only the author know for sure. What we do learn is that Jake herself is haunted by darkness from her past. Could it be that the darkness lurking in the woods could be echoing the darkness lurking within Jake???? gee…. I wonder.
    That Jake escaped her home rapidly is clearly implied at the beginning of the book which works back in time however she remembers to bring her ID .(I found this to be a glaring error on the author’s part) spoiler alert… Jake tries to keep her whereabouts secret from her family, however her mother deposits $50,000 in her bank account. Jake also deposits money in her bank account — so her family can’t trace her whereabouts from her bank deposits or withdrawals? this made no sense to me.
    At one time the term Jake or Jakes was slang for toilet … With its boring cliches and editorial errors the toilet is exactly where this book belongs.
  • This book had so much potential. Lots of questions to be answered and an interesting character. But while we learnt some of what we wanted to know so much was left unsaid. The character of Lloyd remained completely undeveloped. Who was he and where did he cone from? The ending was completely disappointing.

And, here are a few five star reviews:

  • The heroine is a most unique character and her background is revealed very gradually for the reader to understand the situation she is escaping. There are references to her working as a prostitute but when the story opens, she works on a sheep ranch performing jobs that are almost always done by men. Although she seems comfortable with her choices in life, there is tension with her job in a male environment and also because she lives alone. The drama builds and it is rewarding to read the conclusion.
  • A novel you can almost taste. Wyld’s protagonist is earthy, in your face, fearful and complex. The story moves back and forth in time and reveals layer after layer of Jake’s story to the shocked, fascinated and absorbed reader
  • A beautiful, sad and complex and scary and horrifying and gorgeously-written book. Cathartic at its finest.

First and foremost is that I couldn’t put the story down, much like yesterday’s All Our Names and that has to stand for something, doesn’t it?  And, while there is a lot of truth in the five star reviews, there also, unfortunately, is a lot of truth in the one star reviews.  Unlike the few one star reviews for All Our Names, there is clearly some substance to the distaste for All the Birds, Singing, and I share the dissatisfaction with this book.

Jake Whyte is a woman of indeterminate age who has a past she has run from.  The book begins with her present and in alternating chapters flips back and forth between the present and various aspects of her past.  And about two thirds of the way through begins telling the story in reverse, from the end to the beginning.  The problem is that there are all sorts of mysteries and unknowns that become apparent  in the opening chapters and only some of those mysteries and unknowns are resolved by the end of the story.  There are also a whole lot of things unexplained.  For instance, much of her past took place in Australia, but her present takes place on a sheep farm in England — there is no explanation for how she got from one to the other.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things that go unexplained.

It’s somewhat odd reading this book immediately after All Our Names.  One of the  substantive criticisms of that book was that the structure of the story was annoying and confusing.  I ridiculed that criticism as made by somebody who must want their stories hand-fed to them.  And, now, I’m complaining about the structure of this story.  There is a difference though, I think.  In All Our Names, the structure remains consistent through the story.  All the Birds, Singing, however, goes through some jarring shifts.  First, for the first ten chapters or so, the story alternates between two threads of Jake’s story, both of which appeared to me to be moving forward rather than in reverse.  To be honest, though, now I’m not so sure of that.

What was most upsetting was that right around chapter ten, a third story line was introduced — the one that explained her horrible past in reverse.  Meanwhile one of the first two story lines was completely dropped.  There are so many things introduced in this story that are never explained, never dealt with, that are just dropped along the path of getting back to her horrible past, it just becomes a very disappointing story.

So, while the story was riveting in a lot of respects, I’d lean towards the one star reviewers on this one.


And, now, I’ll ‘fess up to today’s change in this challenge.  This is going to break my bank account if I keep this up.  So, tomorrow, I’m headed to the library for the first time in years and will be looking for a couple of books on the list to check out for the next entries in my newest project.



3 responses to “A Book Review My Way — All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

  1. sknicholls December 8, 2014 at 7:04 am

    This sounds like one of those books you either love or can’t stand. Great review though.

  2. Pingback: A Book Review Update | KingMidget's Ramblings

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