This is a Bookish Chat and Review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

May 19, 2015

To carry on with the theme of reviewing books utterly oozing with bleak atmosphere, it's time we discussed All the Birds, Singing. By "discuss," I really mean "chatter to myself," since this one was published in April of last year and I imagine most of you got to it in a more timely fashion.
"Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. ... I'd been up that morning, before the light came through, out there, talking to myself, telling the dog about the things that needed doing as the blackbirds in the hawthorn started up. Like a mad woman, listening to her own voice, the wind shoving it back down my throat and hooting over my open mouth like it had done every morning since I moved to the island. With the trees rattling in the copse and the sheep blaring out behind me, the same trees, the same wind and sheep." - pg. 1, All the Birds, Singing
The novel tells the story of Jake Whyte, a sheep farmer living on her own on a dreary, frigid island in Great Britain. As the opening excerpt describes in graphic detail, something is killing her sheep. Interspersed with Jake's struggle to find out who or what is behind the slaughter is the story of how she came to be on the island. Wyld unflinchingly shows the reader just why Jake is the way she is; much like the opening paragraphs, most of it isn't pretty.

Actually, that thing I said about chattering to myself? I take it back. Immediately after devouring the book in two days, I unabashedly spammed chatted with Julianne of Outlandish Lit about how much it knocked my socks clean off.

I think sharing parts of our chat will help guide my thoughts on this. Note that it has been edited for clarity and spoilers.

Also I just finished All the Birds. Omg
Julianne - Outlandish Lit: 
tell me all your thoughts
Well I LOVED the structure
It had me flipping back and forth the whole time for details I'd missed that only made sense later on
Also all the ANIMALS

The book's perspective shifts with each chapter; one moment we're with Jake in the present day, and the next we're learning how she got there in reverse chronological order. The narrative style made me sit up and pay attention, since I was constantly having to flip back to earlier passages to put the pieces together. For instance, Jake has disturbing flashbacks to her time spent with a man named Otto, but we don't actually meet Otto until a third of the way through the novel. We do, however, see how thoroughly he's unraveled her long before then.

Wyld also has a thing for animals. Parts of the story take place in Australia, and I found myself Googling all kinds of new creatures while I read.

I actually really loved the ending
I just don't really think there was a definitive way to end the story
Julianne - Outlandish Lit:
I was reading somebody's review and they made a good point
about how it was kind of frustrating that the beginning of Jake's story was [REDACTED SPOILER]
and I was like oh...yeah. that's kind of lame
she phrased it better though
I mean I still love this book to pieces
I did think the end/beginning felt kind of rushed
like we didn't get enough time with her as a kid to understand her actions
Yeah I agree that a little more set up would have been nice
I don't think it bothers me as much as it could have because the details that come later are just so rich
And you can clearly see how one thing leads to another in a f*cked up way

The ending was a sticking point for a lot of readers, thus our extensive discussion about it. While I don't want to give it away, I'll say that it isn't a traditional way to end a story and might leave some readers dissatisfied. I felt that the ending fit the story perfectly, especially considering the glimpses we get into Jake's psyche and the trauma she's still experiencing.

The "beginning" of Jake's story that Julianne references was a bit of a letdown, mostly because it felt cliché in a way the rest of the story didn't. Because we only get a couple of chapters of young Jake, we don't get a great sense for how far back her mental deterioration began (for instance, was there abuse at home?). Like Julianne said, we don't really get why she acted like she did, which could have strengthened the story as a whole.

Overall, this felt like a minor flaw considering how masterfully the rest of the story was told. If you enjoy dark settings, offbeat storytelling, and troubled narrators, bump this one up on your TBR list. I know I'll be on the lookout for Wyld's next release.

Maybe I'll just post this chat in lieu of review

Oh, and if you enjoy me and Julianne messaging each other (sometimes vulgarly) about books, you should check out our chat reviews of The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Have you read All the Birds, Singing? I need someone else to message about it!

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  1. JoAnn @ Lakeside MusingMay 19, 2015 at 4:57 AM

    LOVE the chat review format!!

  2. This was perfection, my friend. I'm so glad you loved the book, and for me, it only gets better with time away. I've REALLY been wanting to re-read it, even though I just read it in January, and this makes me want to even more.

    If what I THINK you're talking about when you say the "beginning" I completely agree. It felt a little cheap to me almost, but my initial upset over it has lessened over time. I do also wish the book would have ended without the last chapter, but I can get over that as well.

    As an aside, my husband just read it, and when he finished it, he threw the book on the table, and was like "well that was a waste of time! why did you make me read that!!!!!" He obviously hated the ending, yet he was completely sucked in and engrossed the entire way through. I think it's just such a asdfjkl;dkwicm moment, because you just want to know, who the F*CK is killing those DAM* SHEEP!!!!???? I have my own hypothesis......

    Sorry for the long comment :)

  3. Thank you! It really did help me to structure my thoughts, since this is a tough book to review. :)

  4. Flipping through while I was writing my review yesterday made me want to reread it, too! I bet knowing the story from start to finish would let me get a lot more out of it.

    I totally have theories about the sheep-killing, too, but I didn't want to share them here because spoilers! However, I'm planning to go to town on the Socratic Salon discussion.

    Long comments are GREAT.

  5. Thanks, Care! Have you read it?

  6. Um, no. And I've heard mixed reviews? I know it was in the Tournament of Books...

  7. A lot of people didn't dig the ending.

  8. I'm pretty sure the review I'm referencing in this chat is yours! Just couldn't think of it at the time.

  9. so good so good so good. I hope my boss likes it.

  10. I'm starting this tonight and nervous/excited. It's going to be discussed at The Socratic Salon on June 10th so stop by- there should be lots of chatter! You won't even need to message, spoilers are allowed.

  11. Yeah I had some rage initially ;) but I've relaxed as time has gone on, and the book has only gotten better with percolation.

  12. I'm all over that chat, trust me. :) Thanks for the reminder, and I hope you enjoy it!