Let’s talk briefly about titles. Evie Wyld has the most wonderful knack for titles. I bought this book, and her debut (After the Fire, A Still Small Voice) on title alone, having no idea what they were about, nor any notion of Wyld herself.
I like a title to tell a story. Not in the way of The One-Hundred Year Old Man Whose Complete Title I Can No Longer Be Bothered Typing In Full, but in setting a mood or sharing a secret about the story. I’m also fascinated by what it imparts about the author’s feelings about the book (or if not the author, then a team of people that probably includes the author). The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake are my favourites.
It’s also important to me (as a person who demands things from strangers) that a title be reflective of the book. If I had opened All the Birds, Singing and been dealt an upbeat, extroverted kind of a story, I’d have been very sad indeed.
Of course, I wasn’t. The title conveys the perfect degree of darkness.
Through what can only be described as masterful storytelling, we learn about Jake Whyte — a woman who chooses isolation, who chooses anonymity. The reason becomes apparent, but then it doesn’t. It seems obvious, but it isn’t. Her story is patchworked and choked out of this book.
All the Birds, Singing is told in two parts. That is not interesting in itself, but they are woven together like a double helix, one around the other, distinctly the same story. The past tense story moves with regular chronology, but the present tense story moves backwards in time. It begins at the end. And it ends … at the end. It could have been twee, you know. As with Only the Animals, I feared, briefly, a gimmick. But as the story moves on (or back), it becomes clear that there was no other way to tell it. These chapters could have been reordered, to a narrative that was more usual, more sensible, but the majesty of it, the literal gasp at the resolution of it, would have been lost.
I am not even close to qualified to assess this book, other than to say that I closed it at the end and felt a little part of me drain out. It drained out and dripped from the bed and dragged itself along the hall and it trickled into the night air, and I lay in bed and stared straight ahead, and someone said, ‘Are you okay?’ and I said, ‘I’m not really sure.’
This is a profoundly moving story that not only deserves its accolades, but surpasses them.