Review 1882: After the Fire, A Still Small Voice

After the Fire, A Still Small Voice is Evie Wyld’s debut novel about how family trauma can pass down the generations. In alternate chapters, it follows Frank Collard in the present time and Leon 40 years earlier. Maybe I was dense, but it took me a while to realize that Leon is Frank’s father.

Frank has just split up with his girlfriend when he decides to restart his life. He leaves Canberra and drives to a shack on the eastern coast that his grandparents purchased years ago and where he spent holidays as a boy. He gets an occasional job loading boats. It’s a primitive life, and the loneliness starts to get to him.

Leon trains under his father to be a pastry chef and takes over the bakery after his father, in gratitude for the country that took in himself and his wife, World War II Jewish refugees, volunteers for the Korean War. Leon’s father returns damaged, unable to work, so his parents leave Leon, ending up in the beach shack. Then Leon is conscripted for Vietnam and has his own damaging experiences.

I can’t come up with the reference for this, but I remember several years ago reading a post by someone complaining about women writing like men. The implication was that they were doing so to be taken more seriously by male editors and publishers. In particular, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing was mentioned with the remark that you didn’t even know if the main character was male or female for some time. I didn’t agree that (1) just because you don’t know the sex of the main character means that the author is writing like a man (look at The Towers of Trebizond) or (2) Wyld was writing like a man in All the Birds, Singing. I certainly didn’t have that impression. However, the feel of After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is very masculine, which makes sense with her male protagonists.

The only other observation I have about the novel is that it seemed a bit all over the place for me. Perhaps this is because of my initial confusion about the relationship between the two main characters. I guess I wasn’t paying attention to last names, and Leon’s isn’t mentioned right away. In any case, for a long time I wondered where the novel was going. Also, I didn’t much like either Frank or Leon, although Leon was okay until Vietnam. But Frank’s problem isn’t really explained, and he has major anger issues.

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Review 1872: The Bass Rock

Told in three compelling narratives that take place over centuries, The Bass Rock is a novel about the history of violence toward women. The novel is located on the banks of the Firth of Forth, an area of Scotland dominated by the Bass Rock.

Early in the 18th century, the local priest comes upon some young men raping a very young girl, Sarah. The priest rescues her, but the young men claim she must be a witch because she enchanted them and forced them to do it. Soon, the men have burned down the priest’s house, and the entire household must flee toward the beach.

Post-World War II, Ruth and her husband Peter have recently moved into the big house in North Berwick. Ruth doesn’t quite understand the reason for the move, since Peter works in London. He says it is for the benefit of his sons by his previous marriage, Christopher and Michael, but they are being sent off to school. Soon, newly wed Ruth finds herself left very much on her own with only the housekeeper Betty for company. She begins to discover some secrets in the family.

After Ruth’s death as an old lady, Michael’s daughter Viv is hired by the family to sort through the things left in the house so it can be sold. She has recently had some mental issues and feels like she is the family failure. Almost despite herself, she befriends Maggie, a homeless occasional sex worker who has an interesting take on things. Maggie tells her there is a ghost in the house.

This is a powerful novel. Although its theme is grim, its main characters are relatable and sometimes likable. I loved All the Birds, Singing, and this is another winner from Wyld.

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Day 590: All the Birds, Singing

Cover for All the Birds, SingingBest Book of the Week!
Jake Whyte is a tall, strong young woman doing a man’s job on an island in northern England. She is keeping a sheep farm, doing the best she can at a hard job all by herself. She is haunted, though, by terrifying memories and the feeling that someone is watching her and coming into her house. Her neighbor Don thinks she’s imagining things, but there is no doubt that something is killing her sheep.

Interleaved with her struggles in the present time are scenes from Jake’s past, from the most recent backward in time to when she was a teenager in Australia. So, we slowly learn why Jake finds herself alone, feeling like an outcast from society.

This novel is haunting and in many ways reminds me of the excellent, Tethered, which I just recently reviewed, in dealing with damaged people. I don’t want to say more about it for fear of giving too much away. Let me say that the novel is extremely atmospheric and that I was completely involved in discovering the secrets from Jake’s past as well as what is hanging around her farm. It is also beautifully and sparely written, evoking a distinct personality in Jake.