I’ve come to realise that three out of my last four posts are book-related. The one out of these four that isn’t is kind of just abstract thoughts, so not sure if that really counts, anyway. Upon realising this, I thought it’d be good to post something not book-related or reading-related …but then I just finished reading All the Birds, Singing, and, of course, feel compelled to write a post on it. So… I’m going to make the tally four out of five posts, but I’ll try really hard not to write more book-related posts next week (which, really, shouldn’t be too hard for me, since I don’t read that fast, so it’s not like I’m going to finish another must-write-about-this novel in the next seven days).
All the Birds, Singing is written by Evie Wyld, and is about a girl called Jake Whyte (yes, a girl called Jake) with a mysterious past. This one was lent to me by the same friend who had lent me her copy of The Narrow Road to the Deep North because she thought I’d like it. I must admit, when I first started reading ATBS, I was a bit unsure of her judgement on picking this book for me. I mean, there was nothing really off-putting about it, but I was just a bit confused. It took me a few chapters to really get into it, but the further I progressed through it, the more intrigued I was, and the more I wanted to keep reading.
The thing that impressed me the most about ATBS was the way in which the whole thing was constructed. The odd-numbered chapters are set in the present, and pretty much progress like a normal story. However, the even-numbered chapters (i.e. every alternate chapter) is about Jake’s past. But wait, there’s more to it! These even-numbered chapters detail events in reverse chronological order, so you are essentially going forward in the odd chapters while going backwards in the even chapters. This was confusing for me when I got to Chapter Four (i.e. the second “past” chapter), and the events didn’t seem to be following from what happened in Chapter Two. Clearly, I knew nothing about this book before I started reading it. At least it was easy enough to keep track of past/present, since the past is set in Australia, and the present is in England.
A good thing about a novel written in this way is that it really engages the reader. Well, I thought so, anyway. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had, as a reader, when you notice parallels or recurring themes between chapters; or when you find the places where the pieces fit, and the puzzle comes together. I reckon ATBS was perfect for this: after every “past” chapter, I was wondering how Jake got there, how she got to that point; and I wanted to find the next piece, connect the next dot. And you have all of this between the mystery that exists in the present – the one about who or what is killing her sheep (Jake is a sheep farmer).
The more I think about this, the more I like it. I’m actually really impressed with it. However, I feel like ATBS has a lot of abstract/hidden meanings throughout, and I kind of wonder if some of it was lost on me. The ending seemed kind of random – a few reviews I read on GoodReads complain about not having closure – but, at the same time, it just kind of seems right that it ended where it did. Still, there’s no real closure about what was killing her sheep (or maybe I, and other readers, just totally missed the point).
Something that I didn’t really think about while reading All the Birds, Singing, but sort of realised afterwards, is that it actually reminds me a bit of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. They’re both about strong female characters who are flawed in some way, and have a traumatic past that is gradually revealed as the novel progresses. And both novels are complex yet incredibly well-constructed (Burial Rites alternates between first- and third-person).
And amongst all this seriousness, I still found myself smiling and laughing inwardly now and then. Not sure if Wyld was intentionally being funny or if it’s just the way I read things, but it meant that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I found this sentence particularly memorable:
I’m not sure what I was expecting, to see the sheep dance gratefully around in the puny grass I’ve found them, but they just stand there, a silent little group.
That’s Chapter 16, after Jake adjusts the sheep pen at Otto’s farm in an attempt to give the malnourished sheep access to grass that isn’t dead. (Side note: sometimes the grammar was a bit confusing – not unacceptable, I guess, but confusing.) I also liked the part in Chapter 20 about the spiders coming out of the crack in the wall. Lloyd has some good moments too. I like Lloyd’s character.
Oh, and one more unanswered question, which I’m mildly surprised didn’t come up on GoodReads: why is Jake’s dog just called “Dog”? I also wonder if Wyld spent a lot of time listening to various birds in order to accurately create all the onomatopoeia she used…