All the Birds, Singing is Evie Wyld’s second novel, the follow up to her 2009 debut After the Fire, a Still Small Voice. The debut not only secured her a host of admirers, with its haunting prose and near perfect portrayal of loss, trauma, grief, and loneliness, but it also saw her shortlisted for numerous prizes, including the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask award, both of which she won. It was also her only published novel when she was nominated as A Granta Best Young British Novelist earlier this year. It really is an astonishing debut, and if you haven’t read it yet then you should go out and buy it and stick it at the top of your reading pile. Often, though, the problem with such an impressive debut is that it becomes hard to follow. There were probably many admirers of After the Fire who wondered whether Wyld had any chance of reaching those heights again.
All the Birds, Singing deals with a lot of the same themes. Loneliness is at the centre of the novel, just as it as in the debut. Crucially, the second novel also features a young protagonist trying to escape a troubled past. But Wyld is far from a one trick pony. While the debut dealt with two interconnected lives at vastly different times of the century, All the Birds, Singing focuses solely on Jake Whyte. In one strand of the story Jake, which some may say is a decidedly odd name for a girl, is living on a British Island with only the imaginatively named Dog and a flock of sheep for company. In the other, we work backwards through her life, in a style similar to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, slowly uncovering more and more details about how Jake came to be the lonely and somewhat paranoid individual we see in the British section. It’s a startlingly original way to tell such a story, and as the reader moves from chapter to chapter the dread clings to them tightly, forcing them to turn the pages long into the night. There is no let up. Readers will sense the devastation that set Jake’s life on its current path long before they have any idea what it is, but it’s doubtful many will predict the enormity of the climax and conclusion that awaits them.
Anyone who did worry about how Wyld would follow up that breathtaking debut was wasting their time. The follow-up shares the same perfect prose, the same dialogue that sounds so real, so hilarious in parts and heartbreaking in others, that you feel she must have reached into the mouths of actual people and plucked their words straight out before dropping them onto the page. She continues the themes of the debut enough to make you identify with exactly the same things you did before, but she changes things up enough to make this a fantastic and unique work in its own right. Both of the books are completely compelling and powerful. Both of them are extremely difficult to put down once you’ve picked them up.
Any Cop?: My only complaint regarding All the Birds, Singing is that it wasn’t long enough. I wasn’t ready to relinquish the hold it had over me. But even that isn’t a fair complaint. In all honesty, the book is the perfect length for the story it tells, there are no digressions, no unnecessary elements, just pure, immersive writing all the way to the end. I was unsure about some of the names on this year’s Granta list, but Evie Wyld was the wisest decision they made. There were four years between her first and second books; I hope it won’t be that long until the third.