In 2014, the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize worked with the Regional Literature Development Agencies to find reading groups across the UK to read the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning titles.
All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld was read by the Peninsula Arts Reading Group from Plymouth and below are reviews from its reading group members.
We really enjoyed this book. Members described it as ‘gripping’, ‘a crackling page-turner’, and ‘a gritty, pacey read’.
All the Birds, Singing tells the story of Jake, a stoic, tough and mistrustful woman, as she flees her family and the Australian outback and works her island sheep farm in England. From the beginning her androgynous name raises a question and throughout it makes you think about gender and sexuality. The sex is bluntly described and unromantic as it so often is for a vulnerable runaway. Jake is a person trying to escape and the puzzle of the book is escape from what and whom?
Wyld captures place, nature and environment so well. As she writes you really feel the stifling heat of the Australian outback with its scattered fly-blown sheep stations and the cold of an English winter on a hill farm. Both feel remote and this resonates with Jake’s isolation and her fears. Wild creatures are ever-present, with foxes, birds, insects and a creature in the wood with large yellow eyes, and the birds often break the silence, providing a choral comment on Jake’s plight. Sheep need care and protection and Jake becomes their protector. Also the dogs, with their different personalities, are key characters in the narrative.
All the Birds, Singing is doubly suspenseful, as half the chapters go backwards to the source of Jake’s troubles and half go forwards to a form of resolution. There are tantalising snippets that point to the puzzle of Jake’s past and questions about how she will deal with her present. The sparse and direct writing style also adds to the intensity of the book.
The characters are well-drawn and credible but some readers felt they were left with loose ends, wanting to know more about Lloyd, her companion in the island cottage, her neighbour on the island, who or what was killing her sheep. But others thought it was part of a good read…to leave you wondering and thinking. All the Birds, Singing certainly does that.