Lambs to the Slaughter: Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing

05/08/2014 9:00 AM |

Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing starts out disquieting, becomes unsettling, and ends looking straight into hell. One of the least sentimental novels in recent memory, it’s tersely poetic and true to the horror tropes it structures itself around, though this is horror in the vein of Poe rather than King: unblinking and irrefutable. Evoking The Hound of Baskervilles in more ways than one, Wyld’s second novel begins with the latest in a series of brutal sheep deaths, slayings of such carnage they must have been committed by either a depraved human or a beast hitherto unknown on the small island where the novel is set—the most distant of the British Isles. The owner of the flock, a troubled farmer named Jake Whyte, is the kind of woman who would not be surprised to attract either depravity or horrible hell monsters.

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From here the story moves both forward and backward in time as Jake both seeks out the killer and recounts how she came to the island and why she’s so intent on isolating herself there. Her past, disorienting in large stretches because of its Betrayal-like structure, eventually reveals such horror and anguish that the beast could rightfully be viewed as either the epitome of her victimhood or a long-overdue judgment of her sins. This is a harrowing read; the monster and animal slaughter are perhaps the 10th-most depraved thing on display. It touches on torture, sexual slavery, and the crimes against Australia’s Aboriginal population, but Wyld isn’t simply going down a checklist of horrors—everything is done to illuminate the erosion of Jake’s soul and conscience. It’s a magnificent book about grisly things, an experience not easily forgotten.