It blows my mind to think that Evie Wyld’s After The Fire, a Still Small Voice is now over a decade old. Passages of that book still live with me. I can still remember the way she describes the pattern on a duvet cover in one scene, the silences she leaves that say so much, the quiet and devastating humour with which she underwrites everything. It was my favourite book of 2009 and I struggle to think of a better book published since. In the eleven years since Evie has released the still very good indeed All The Birds, Singing and a charming but deadly graphic novel called Everything is Teeth. Everything she has published has left me excited and slightly (very) envious of her ability, but I was still waiting for something to match up to the wonder of that debut.
And then came The Bass Rock. Evie has always liked to tell her stories from at least a couple of perspectives or timeframes, but in this latest work we find her flitting around all over the place. We have Sarah in the early 1700s. After being accused of being a witch and suffering a sexual assault, she is helped by a family to escape her pursuers. In the era just after the Second World War, we meet Ruth – married to a recently widowed man, she is trying to be a mother to two children who aren’t hers at the same time as navigating life in a new village and all the traditions and expectations that come with it. In the current era we meet Viv as she housesits the home that Ruth once lived in. Viv is escaping her own troubles, fighting demons that are very real and also imaginary and meeting a cast of interesting characters. And bubbling alongside all of these stories there is a supernatural element, as well as th mystery of the body found in the suitcase in the opening pages.
I am not usually one for such complex narratives. As simple as it might make me sound, I prefer my stories to be run from start to finish and stay in no more than a couple of timelines. But this in Evie Wyld. And after the initial difficulties I had in getting my head around the timelines and working out how the characters connected to each other, which was likely more my issue than the book’s, I found that she had managed to weave these many tales together in a way that few other writers could. She creates something extremely special. And as you begin to see what it is that ties all of these stories together, the book takes on an immense power.
This is the best book of the #MeToo era. Without talking directly about the primary focus of recent years, Evie manages to create a work of fiction that effectively investigates the imbalance of power between men and women. The women in this book are all amazingly well drawn characters. They all feel very real. And the ways in which they are controlled and coerced by men feel very real, too. You feel fully immersed in their battles, both interior and exterior, and you can’t help but feel joy at even the minor victories. And when Evie shows the power that these women really do hold, it is in ways that will make it impossible to put the book down.
Any Cop?: In a word, yes. I might have to read it again before I can tell you if it holds the same place in my mind as her debut, but it is certainly very close. It is so involving. It builds into several crescendos that will leave you breathless, without it ever approaching anything that feels forced or overly dramatic. And most importantly, it is written with Evie’s trademark wit and beauty. With sentences that will make your head shake and characters that will make you wish they were real so that you could be their friend, this deserves to be considered for every prize that is offered in 2020. An absolute blinder.