I had been wanting to read this novel for a while and inadvertently began it the morning the longlist for The Stella Prize was announced. It seems I have rather intuitive timing!
Jake Whyte lives as a recluse on a sheep farm on a remote British Island. A mysterious animal or force is destroying her flock at night. Told in alternating chapters is the story of her earlier life in Australia where a devastating secret from her past chases her to this isolated destination. She is still marked by the brutal scars that prove the reality of her past experiences.
First Impressions: I though this novel was incredibly well written and I was enjoying how the narrative was chugging along. Different people from Jake’s past were mentioned and while no explanation was given as to who they were I felt confident all would be explained in due course. When a single, alarming sentence provided an insight into her relationship with the mysterious Otto, I was hooked.
Highlights: Jake’s character was superbly created. No specific physical description of Jake is included but the tiny snippets provided along the way made me want to know more. By the end it is clear that her physical appearance added complexity to everything she experienced and you are left wishing more detail was provided yet the novel does work better without any background expository. The flashback chapters that spun in reverse chronological order were highly addictive to read. Just when you thought you were getting close to finding out about Jake’s secret and her scars, the author takes you back even further in time. The final revelation isn’t what I expected either and I liked the fact it wasn’t predictable.
If I was an editor: I would comment that the constant references to birds provided all the events in the novel with cohesiveness but by the end I wasn’t necessarily concerned about the meaning or metaphor behind these references as it was the story itself that hooked me. The events in the present provided good balance with the events of the past but weren’t quite as gripping.
Overall: A short, almost perfect novel. The descriptions of both the setting and characters in both countries are authentic, just as I assume the references to sheep rearing are!
All the Birds, Singing: 4 stars
Thank you to Random House for a copy of the ARC to review.