07/15/2014 07:32 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

All the Birds, Singing : Book Review

The birds of the title are the mocking observers of human vulnerability in this beautiful, disturbing and intensely lyrical novel by Evie Wyld. Their increasingly insistent "songs" are transcribed into sometimes paragraph-long passages of strange, staccato utterance, and seem to grow longer as the tale progresses. They are the chorus of the haunting human drama that unfolds, in two, parallel narratives--one in the present, moving forward into an uncertain future, set on a isolated sheep farm in a remote, wind-blown Scottish island; the other, set in various, equally desolate locations in Australia, moving backwards in time through the narrator's traumatic past to the "original sin" that sets everything in motion. These deftly woven narrative threads are presented in alternating sequences that reflect and elucidate each other, taking us ever deeper into the grievously damaged psyche of the narrator...

... who is Jake, a gritty, hard-headed, hard-working, hard-drinking, emotionally and physically scarred woman engaged in the desperate effort to live her life and at the same time exorcise the demons that have possessed her since that earliest of childhood traumas, revealed to us only in the very last pages of the book. She devotes every last ounce of her considerable physical strength to the only work she knows, taking care of her flock from birth to death--and protecting them from the attacks of a creature that descends from the hills to ravage them. We are never quite sure whether this aggressor is as real as the bloody death it leaves in its wake, or else the creature of Jake's nightmares, summoned from the past. The battle with this hidden enemy becomes the obsession of her tortured mind. That she finds, along the way, an ally in the form of a man as mysterious and damaged as herself is an event she views with self-protective skepticism. Will he help her, despite herself, find a measure of salvation?

Wyld's prose is as muscular, sinewy, unsparing as this remarkable character. It has the precision of poetry, but without adornment, unnecessary wordage, or concession to literary conceit. The story, a hero's journey patterned on descent, ordeal--and redemption of a kind--is as compelling as the character who tells it. And, like the best of fiction, it stands in for the struggle that we all must face, as living human beings, between the light and the darkness in our souls. Thanks to Wyld, I listened to the birds today with a little more attention, on my early morning walk.