This is a story about secrets, now, in the past, in Australia, in England. The opening is shocking, a mutilated sheep, no description spared. Jack Whyte, a man’s name but a female character, feels threatened, fears the attack on the sheep is meant as a message for her.
And from here the rollercoaster starts, as we follow Jack’s current grey existence with her sheep, somewhere anonymous in England, and a dog called Dog. This story is told in alternating chapters, switching between England now, and Australia then. The story in the present goes forward, in linear time, normal time. Jack’s back story in Australia, the reasons she is where she is, is told backwards. This seemed strange to start with, but the author handles this structure elegantly and it suits the sinister tone. I didn’t guess Jack’s secret, didn’t know how it would all end.
There is a deep sense of foreboding throughout this book. Something happened: Jack is running from something, from someone, but what? Are local children in England attacking her sheep, or is there a huge animal which roams at night? Why does she shun the locals? Why is she in England, so far from home? And is it all in her head? Should we believe her fears?
She has come from a hard world in Australia, a man’s world of sheep stations, sheep shearing, where she is the only woman, she does press-ups and has biceps to rival the men she works alongside. It feels as if she is trapped by her situation, by her life, by the sinister men which she seems to attract. At one point in Australia she moves the animals’ pen onto some thin grass so the pathetic sheep can eat “but they just stand there, a silent little group, I try to move them about, but they’re not scared of me. Resigned is what they are, and I tell them, ‘You can move around if you want to,’ waving my arms and jumping about, but they just sway a little in the hot fly air.” For a while, Jake acts like these sheep; staying where she is, swaying in the heat. But the reader knows she is in England now, so she must have run: when, where, why?
In England a neighbour advises her to go to the pub once in a while, get to know the other farmers. Don says: “Some things you just can’t do on your own… That’s why farmers need to know each other, you help them, they help you, that’s just how it goes… because sooner or later I’m going to hit the post and be dead and then what’ll you do? Starve to death I suppose.” Yes, I believed she would rather starve.
‘All the Birds, Singing’ by Evie Wyld
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