Book Review: The Seventh Train by Jackie Carriera #book #review

Synopsis:

What if you can’t stand where you are because there’s nothing there? What if you don’t want to end up anywhere else in case that’s empty too? When life has lost its road map, sometimes the only way to get back on track is to get back on the rails.

The Seventh Train is a ride – a ‘road movie’ on the railways. It’s a journey that Elizabeth invented; the only original thought she has ever had in her previously uneventful life. Unbeknown to her, she is not travelling alone. If only she’d pretended that the spare seat was taken.

With a wonderfully eclectic cast of characters, The Seventh Train takes its passengers on a journey from the tragic to the strange, arriving finally at hope. By turns heart-breaking, thought-provoking and hilarious, this tale is a life-affirming exploration of the human spirit via the British railway timetable!

“Ingenious, great fun, and wholly original” – Fay Weldon CBE, on The Seventh Train.

My review:

This is the second book I’ve read from Jackie Carreira, both of which are gifted copies from the author. I am thrilled to give an unbiased review of both. Her first Sleeping Through War was equally as good, if not better. I’ve rated both 5 stars as I’m really impressed by this writer.

My review for Sleeping Through War: https://mjmallon.com/2020/07/27/book-review-sleeping-through-war-by-jackie-carreira-literary-fiction-historical-womens/

The Seventh Train is a great concept from Jackie Carreira and a thoroughly engaging read. Loved it. If you appreciate a great tale about unexpected happenings in train journeys, this is for you. I’ve always enjoyed travelling by train – meeting people, listening to conversations, imagining what these strangers might do when they arrive at their destinations. This is the fodder for writers!

Jackie Carreira’s The Seventh Train takes that idea a stretch of the imagination further. This is a lovely tale that begins with a middle-aged lady, Elizabeth. She is waiting in a Cambridge train station cafe and doesn’t want anyone to sit with her, or talk to her. Of course, she doesn’t get her wish, quite the opposite! What happens next overturns everything you might imagine. A group of unconnected, different people of varying ages end up journeying together becoming unlikely companions. They have one extraordinary thing in common. Read the book to find out what that is!

This is a thought-provoking book, one which also touches upon regret, sadness, a life not lived to the full. It also expresses many concerns about the working life of train drivers. What do they have to cope with in their job? We experience many different emotions when our train journey is delayed by a fatality on the line: sadness at the loss of life and what has brought that person to that desperate decision. There is also a sense of inconvenience as well, we are delayed in our journey. We don’t know the person; we didn’t see them jump. What impact do jumpers committing suicide have upon the train driver, who can see them?

Things to note: This story was originally a play. The author is also an award-winning playwright with QuirkHouse Theatre Company.

Highly recommended. 5 stars.

I received a paperback copy from the author. My opinions are my own and not biased.

Authors Website: https://jackiecarreira.co.uk/

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My Kyrosmagica Review of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Goodreads Synopsis:

An extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.

“You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…”

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years.

They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other – worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

My review: 

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is an ambitious endeavour which combines elements of fantasy with literary and historical fiction. It is a philosophical tale replete with deep insights regarding family love and loyalty, trust, forgiveness, old age and memory loss, marital love, and war. At the heart of this story the premise is this: in a long life our memories will not always be happy ones, free from any hurt, or guilt. All human beings make mistakes and do hurtful things, therefore, is it better to leave these painful memories buried?  But if you do so how will you ever learn from the tragic historical mistakes of the past? Moreover, if you are unable to remember your family, the people you love, the life that you live, then what do you truly have? One only has to consider a victim of Alzheimer’s to understand the devastation that this brings. This gift of remembrance comes with a price, it is a double-edged sword as you will find if you read the book.

The Buried Giant, as its name suggests, is a slow almost laborious read to begin with. In fact I almost felt as if the mist of forgetfulness was engulfing me as I was reading!  Some might find the development of the story line to be too slow for their taste, and may be switched off the book because of it, this is most definitely a novel that will divide opinion. If you like a deeply thoughtful close read, I would recommend this, but prepared for the slow start.  The true meaning of the book’s title, The Buried Giant, remains a mystery hidden in the mists of the story right until it is time to reveal its true meaning.

The time period is mythical old England. The Buried Giant features an elderly Briton couple, Beatrice and Axl, who set of on a journey from the village in which they live, an underground habitat connected, “one to another by underground passages and covered corridors,” to their son’s village to find him. This sounds a simple enough quest but this isn’t just an ordinary reunion, no, Beatrice and Axl can hardly remember what their son looks like, nor can they even remember recent life changing events that have happened to them. In fact the past has now taken on the qualities of a mist: “I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as which hung over the marshes.” Axl feels the pain of this lack of remembering particularly when it is about their son: “Many things I’ll happily let go to it, but its cruel when we can’t remember a precious thing like that.”

They are joined on their quest like adventure by an injured boy, Master Edwin, and a Saxon Warrior, Master Wistan. The warrior appears to be a man of great character who is able to withstand spells. All four of these characters, Axl, Beatrice, Edwin, and Wistan, are looking for something or someone. Edwin, Axl and Beatrice are all wishing to be reunited with a much-loved but mostly forgotten, family member, in Edwin’s case it is his mother. The warrior Wistan sees a special quality in his protégé Edwin that he feels sure will lead him to the She Dragon Querig :  “I chose you above others, Master Edwin, because I saw you had the hunter’s gift to match your warrior spirit.”

They meet an aged knight, Sir Gawain, the “nephew of the great Arthur,”  and his elderly horse, Horace.  The once mighty Sir Gawain has been given the task of  slaying Querig, but it appears that in his enfeebled state, Sir Gawain has failed in this endeavour and the She dragon still lives.  Sir Gawain continues to defend the honour of Arthur who he believes has brought a lasting peace to Britain.

Sir Gawain reflects on Edwin’s injury:  ‘That’s no ogre’s bite the boy carries.” The Villagers superstitions’ lead them to believe that Edwin will turn into a fiend himself.  The reader begins to wonder is this an ogre’s bite or a dragon’s bite? The young boy’s behaviour becomes stranger the closer that he gets to the She dragon’s lair,  this mimics an earlier episode in the book when Wistan pretends to be an idiot,  this device connects these two characters, suggesting Wistan’s hold over Edwin.

On the quest we are introduced to a rich array of characters in keeping with the fantasy, (magical realism,) element of this story,  to name a few there are:  ogres, monks, sprites, a beast, pixies, a bird like old woman, a she dragon, and the all important boat man, who ferry people to the island of the dead. When we meet the bird like old woman she is clutching a rabbit that she intends to kill.

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**** Some minor spoilers below in italics****

This bird like old woman appears to be taunting a thin unusually tall boatman. But nothing is quite as it seems. At first glance it appears as if the boatman is the victim of this strange woman’s hideous behaviour.  But could it be that the woman has suffered an injustice at the hands of the boatman? The old woman recants a tale of being questioned by the boatman about the bond between her husband and herself. This bond is deemed too weak by the all-knowing boatman. She is tricked and forcibly parted from her husband and offered a rabbit as recompense for her first night of never-ending solitude.  Can you imagine? What a wicked thing! Beatrice is fearful that the loss of memory that she and her husband are currently experiencing will lead to their enforced parting too. She fears that they may let some less than perfect confession slip when answering the boatman’s far-reaching questions about the worthiness of their love.

Later it is suggested that the weary old couple, Axl and Beatrice, will  defeat the she-dragon with a poisoned  goat given to them by abandoned children whose mother has forgotten them. Again, the theme of forgetfulness, and loss permeates the many layers of this novel. This seems ridiculous at this point in the novel, yet it isn’t as far fetched as it seems, as Axl and Beatrice are now as enfeebled as the dragon. 

As for the warrior Wistan, he has been taught by Lord Brennus to hate  Britons. Now Wistan hopes to ensure that his protégé, Edwin, hates Britons too. Later Edwin questions whether this should apply to all Britons, even to their fair-minded companions, Axl and Beatrice. Will the circle of hate continue if Querig is destroyed and the mist is lifted?

Superstition plays an important role in this tale, the She dragon Querig is attributed with having caused the mist. It is suggested that Merlin placed a spell on her breath. Gawain states that,”Without this she-dragon’s breath, would peace ever have come?” But there are others who think that the mist is God’s forgetting, or possibly God’s punishment for man’s evil. When Axl and Beatrice are sheltered by Ivor, Ivor says to Beatrice,”The stranger thought it might be God himself had forgotten much from our pasts, events far distant, events of the same day.”

There is a sense of a past laying below the surface waiting to reappear, like the mist clearing, and little by little Axl begins to recollect days of wars. He recalls the slaughter of women, children and elderly. “A slaughterer of babes.”

When finally the reader is acquainted with the once mighty Querig, one wonders whether this creature is now to be pitied? This once fearsome creature has aged like three of the characters who seek it: Axl, Beatrice, and Sir Gawain. The warrior and Sir Gawain at this point in the novel have utterly opposing views, “Leave this place, sir, I beg you.” Wistan considers that,”what kind of god is it, sir, wishes wrongs to go forgotten and unpunished?” When they fight, their blades lock in what initially appears to be a matched battle, suggesting they both believe in the true justice of their contrasting opinions. The rest you must learn by reading the book.

Ultimately, if the dragon is indeed slayed will the result be peace and happiness for all? What impact will this have on Beatrice and Axl? Will their memories be restored? If  they are, will this bring them joy or pain? Will the Britons and Saxons be divided once again?

The final conclusion is heart breaking, a powerful ending. I waited a long time for this emotionally charged moment, it came right at the end but it was worth the wait. I liked this novel, and appreciated the thought that went into its crafting, but somehow it didn’t quite reach the heady heights of my favourite shelf.  The slow progression of the novel, and some of the slightly irritating habits of the characters dragged it down, Axl’s constant referring to his wife, as his “princess” comes to mind. Yet, The Buried Giant left me thinking….. Yes, it is a deeply thoughtful novel, one to ponder on and consider.

Highly recommended for readers of: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy.

Note for fantasy readers: the fantasy element in this novel is used “as a means of distraction from realities too painful to face.” See http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/08/kazuo-ishiguro-rebuffs-genre-snobbery

My rating:

4 stars. A hard one to rate, the slow start, though possibly unavoidable, meant that it dragged a bit for me, so didn’t quite hit the giddy heights of a five-star read, so I’d say, a very solid 4 stars.

Have you read The Buried Giant? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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Cambridge Literary Festival: Publishing in the Digital Age

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On Sunday 19th April 2015 I arrived in time for the Cambridge Literary Festival Publishing in the Digital Age talk in The Cambridge Union Blue Room. Luckily I just managed to catch my bus by a hair’s whisker or else I would have been late. There were two speakers, Rachel Colbert, of Headline Press, and Mary-Ann Harrington, from Tinder Press. Tinder Press was launched two years ago in 2013 as Headline’s literary imprint, “a place where classy, intelligent writing could thrive.” Mary-Ann enthusiastically has managed to acquire lots of lovely authors for this fairly new imprint, including Mary O’Farrell, their launch title author of Instructions for a Heatwave, Helen Walsh, author of The Lemon Grove, and Eowyn Ivey debut author of  Snow Child, to name but a few. “Snow Child became an international bestseller. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize 2013, and Eowyn won the International Author of the Year category at the 2012 National Book Awards.”

Headline is a long-established publishing house, having been around since 1986, so Rachel asked Mary-Ann why had they chosen these troubled times to start a new imprint?

For Mary-Ann it felt like “the logical next step,” they felt “hungry to do more,” and books such as Snow Child were out there waiting to be discovered and to be successful in terms of sales. She wanted to create a small imprint of ten to twelve titles in which world of mouth would drive both debut authors and established authors success. These authors would then be given the prestige that Literary authors deserve. This small focus meant that these titles could become “reading group fiction,” or “word of mouth fiction,” and could be delivered into the right hands. There would be continuing support for these authors. A strategy was developed to find the perfect readers and advocates of these books, ensuring that this prestigious literature was placed into the right hands. The focus was on keeping it “special,” “small,” “diverse,” and “building up relationships.” With this strategy in place books could be issued to the booksellers, bloggers, and writers to endorse them. “Trust” was the key.

Rachel asked about opportunities for new writers given that the number of independent book retailers had now fallen drastically to less than one thousand shops.

Mary-Ann began by saying that yes it is a difficult marketplace. There are challenges, and threats but there are also opportunities. The high street chains are troubled so launching debuts is a difficult task. Booksellers have to think of new and exciting initiatives to generate interest. Tinder Press is passionate about championing new writers such as Sarah Leipciger debut author of The Mountain Can Wait.

Rachel continued to discuss this topic, she suggested that debut authors do have an advantage in some ways.

Mary-Ann was quick to agree, new authors are seen as  “promising,” and intriguing, therefore they get a fair amount of publicity and attention. Readers love nothing better than finding new authors.

Next Rachel explored the rise of Digital Books.

Mary-Ann argued that for an established literary author e-books are a good method to generate sales. With debut literary fiction the book needs to be seen, reviewed, and recommended so the traditional publishing route is better. She mentioned “the importance of a book as a physical object.” Yet that doesn’t mean that Mary-Ann isn’t aware of the current trends in self-publishing. On the contrary she mentioned that she, ” is very interested in self-publishing.” She suggested that authors taking the self-publishing route should put energy into their marketing, to make as much of an impact as possible.If they are successful it can pay off and they can be signed by major publishers. Again, it’s about creating relationships, and making sure that your material, the book itself, the cover, your social media presence is of the highest quality. Next, they talked about kindle. The focus centred firmly on hard work, creating an amazing profile, blog, and making sure that your on-line marketing strategy is first class.

Rachel had a tip for those who intend to publish to e-books. In traditional publishing there might be some empty blank pages in the opening pages of a physical book before the story begins. With e-books this is unnecessary, so make sure that you don’t have a lot of empty pages at the beginning of your e-book,  start straight into the story, put any other pages at the back of the book.

For a successful self published book to be picked up by a traditional publishing house it would have had to have sold in the region of 50,000 plus copies. That’s a lot of books! Of course they do keep an eye on the progress of self-published books. It is worth trying as many agencies as possible when looking to publish your book. Explore many avenues to get your work read, write short stories, and flash fiction, these are all an excellent idea. If you’re going directly to a publisher make sure that they know that you are confident in your intention, and that you wish to bypass the lengthy process to get your books straight into the publisher’s hands. Mary added that without an agent publishing is extremely hard, you must put time and energy into it. “Persistence” is the key.

Rachel felt that YA and Children’s literature is a growing area so possibly the market is not quite so saturated. Again check guidelines when submitting to publishers, agents, and follow them very carefully. Do not give them any excuse to ignore your submission, which will most probably be the case if you make mistakes.

Mary-Ann mentioned that Tinder Press is an imprint which publishes “international” books, an example which she cited is an Australian novel: Stephanie Bishop’s UK debut, The Other Side Of The World. This is a beautifully written literary novel. Novels such as these provoke the word “love”  to readily come into the conversation when she pitches these kind of books in-house. These special books thrive with writer’s endorsements, and there is a “reproduction effect” as each reader experiences a powerful, personal response when reading the book, which is then reproduced over and over again.

Next the topic moved on to new writers and the Submissions process

Mary-Ann is one of three editors at Tinder Press. They look for a publishing model that is full of enthusiasm. There must be a strong narrative hook to provoke an emotive response. Though, sometimes a quieter novel might come along that still captures the editor’s attention because it is so wonderfully written or is a bit different. They look for books with engaging stories that leave you with a “strong feeling,” that you “want to share,” they might have “a strong international flavour.” Tinder Press wants their readers to be challenged.

When submitting Mary-Ann suggests that the most important consideration to bear in mind is the “kernel of the book.”  This is so important. The author should be able to tell their story in a couple of sentences that are so memorable that the editor will sit up and take notice and ultimately the reader will want to go on this fictional journey. It is also helpful if editors are able to see that the submitting author has a social media presence. Long established authors don’t necessarily have to, but new writers are encouraged to do so. To be a member of a writer’s group, or to have successfully taken part in writing competitions, anything along these lines will give the editor a sense of the writers capabilities. But, don’t rely on this alone, first and foremost it is the book itself that will drive the editor’s decision whether to accept it.

New authors are given excellent advice from the in-house Tinder publicist about building good relationships. This community of support is very important. Mary-Ann recommended looking at the way that successful authors conduct their social media, use some of these as a model to get ideas.

In March Tinder had an open submission for two weeks from unagented authors. This is now closed. Their publicist did such a good job in publicising the event that they received a whopping 2,000 submissions. They anticipate that they will find an author from this process. When submissions are open, they hope that the successful author will have all the necessary skills to be accepted straight away. Though Mary-Ann did say that if they find an author with promise they would be prepared to mentor that author.

A member of the audience asked if they take submissions from non-fiction writers.

They may take one submission from a non-fiction writer, they would be interested in memoir.

So, what did I think about Publishing in The Digital Age?

I’m so glad I went to the talk. I discovered lots of new exciting Literary Fiction, and also I gained some insight into the workings of the submissions process. It was well worth it. If you’re interested in books and/or writing I’d highly recommend attending a Literary Festival, it is inspiring and so much fun.

Links:

http://tinderpress.co.uk/

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My Kyrosmagica Review of Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative is a subtle triptych that captures the ordinary life of Neville Lister during South Africa’s extraordinary revolution. Ivan Vladislavic lays moments side by side like photographs on a table. He lucidly portrays a city and its many lives through reflections on memory, art, and what we should really be seeking.

My review:

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This was another great suggestion from Norwich Writer’s Centre summer reading adventure. More details of the summer reads are at http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/yoursummerreads.aspx.

Double Negative is published by And Other Stories, an alternative UK publisher that brings “collaborative, imaginative and shamelessly literary” works to the fore with their annual subscription package. Join the mailing list at: andotherstories.org/join-us. Follow on twitter @andothertweets, and join on Facebook: And Other Stories. Check out their website:  http://www.andotherstories.org/

Our main protagonist Neville is a young white man, a university drop out, back home living in his parents house in Johannesburg.  He seems to have lost his way and is painting lines and arrows in parking lots with fellow worker Jaco. On the surface Jaco may seem okay but don’t be deceived by impressions. “Jaco was like a can that had been shaken, for all his jokey patter, he was full of dangerous energies, and if you prodded him in the wrong place, he would go off pop.”   The era is pre apartheid, Neville doesn’t like to get too involved, he prefers to stand on the periphery watching events unfold, a wavering character. Though he does take exception to his  father’s new neighbour’s out and out racism. “An odourless poison leaked out of him.” “His prejudice was a passion.” His father fears that he will fall in with the wrong crowd.  Neville has no idea what he wants to do with his life so his father introduces him to a family friend, a famous photographer Saul Auerbach who takes Neville out for the day with a British journalist, Brookes who is looking for a pre-apartheid story.   Spending a day with Auerbach changes Neville’s life. He  is encouraged to play a game of chance as they stand on top of a hill. Each choose a house to visit at random not knowing who lives inside or what they may find. For me, the story really grasped my attention at this point.  They only get to see two of the houses. Neville’s choice is abandoned due to poor light. Auerbach’s portraits of the first two become celebrated pieces.

Nev is awakened by the experience, now it is as if he is seeing life through a camera lense. The narrative moves swiftly on, giving us snapshots of  South Africa during this period of tumultuous change. Nevillle struggles with the concept of duty but takes the easy way out and moves to London to avoid military service. His day with Auerbach made  such an lasting impact on him that he becomes a photographer.  But he misses his home in South Africa and longs to return.”The poetry of the moment made me long for the prose of Johannesburg. I went to see a travel agent.”  An old lady had thrown chicken feed into the ballot box!  He returns to post apartheid Johannesburg but much has changed. His former home seems alien to him. Now Neville is a fairly successful photographer being interviewed by  Janie, a blogger. He thinks about the day spent with Auerbach often.  He has not forgotten his choice of house, and he decides to visit decades later. Behind every front door there is a story to be told and each story is so different. Each photograph can be so different from the next. The possibilities are endless.

Double Negative spans decades in time. It handles these changes well.  I particularly liked Nev’s quote:  “I’m growing into my father’s language: it will fit me eventually like his old overcoat that was once two sizes too big.”

Double Negative is exceptionally well written. It captures an everyday life against the backdrop of South Africa’s incredible revolution in an engaging portrait of a city and its many diverse citizens.  I loved the link with photography, and the whole idea of the Double Negative. The following quote is taken from a later section in the novel when a mature Nev is talking to his wife Leora.

“She was being ironic, obviously,” she said.

“Yes.”

“And so are you.”

“I guess.”

“The whole thing is ironic.”

“Including the ironies.”

“Maybe they cancel one another out then,” Leora said, “Like a double negative.”

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Saul Auerbach is a fictional character though he has similarities to David Goldbatt, South Africa’s celebrated photographer. Goldblatt began photographing in 1948 and has recorded South Africa through the period of  apartheid to the present day. There is a very interesting article about him at ideastap : http://www.ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/david-goldblatt

Also he featured on African voices on CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/08/world/africa/david-goldblatt-photographer-apartheid/index.html

My rating:

4 engaging Film Strips! Highly recommended.

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Authors website
http://www.ivanvladislavic.com/

Have you read Double Negative? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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My Kyrosmagica Review of All The Birds Singing Evie Wyld

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Goodreads synopsis:

From one of Granta‘s Best Young British Novelists, a stunningly insightful, emotionally powerful new novel about an outsider haunted by an inescapable past: a story of loneliness and survival, guilt and loss, and the power of forgiveness.

Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wanted it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sets off a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. But there is also Jake’s past—hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present. With exceptional artistry and empathy, All the Birds, Singing reveals an isolated life in all its struggles and stubborn hopes, unexpected beauty, and hard-won redemption.

My review:

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I picked up a copy of this book as a summer read on display at my local library, via Norwich Writers Centre summer reads book club. http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/yoursummerreads.aspx.  I’m so glad that I did.

It’s about sheep and birds and a lot of animals, and all sorts of things you just wouldn’t expect. Who says a sheep farm can’t be exciting!

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The story begins with the words, “Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.”  What a way to begin, with those initial words I was instantly drawn in and my attention just didn’t waver.

Wyld tells us Jake’s current story in the past tense, and the story of her past in the present tense. An unusual device. Her past is catching up with her always there a menace that she can’t escape from. The tale begins in the past tense,  in England on her sheep farm. To begin with I found the main protagonist, Jake Whyte, a shady character. Who is this person? Why has she bought a farm in this remote area of England? Her name sounds like a man’s name. She has a manly physique, she is no weakling, though there are hints at feminine aspects to her persona.  She appears a lonely individual separated from the community in which she lives, unable or unwilling to participate. Her only companion is her dog, who is simply named Dog. This lady is not one for frills.  She is a strong woman with a disturbing past,  who carries the scars of that past on her back. No wonder she wants to stay hidden. Her only concession to human contact on her sheep farm in England is  Don, and Don sold her the house and the land. Don regards her reluctance to engage with others as unnatural, and tries to encourage her to mix to integrate into the farming community, to find someone to share her life with, and to live a normal life.

Chapters alternate to reveal her past in Australia when she was working with a  sheep shearing gang to her younger adolescent years when she made a terrible mistake that she is still paying for in the present. This earlier chapter of her life is unexpected, and shocking. No wonder she is running. She has the scars to show for it. In Australia she also has only one companion, no dog this time, a male on the sheep shearing gang. She is one woman among many male sheep shearers, yet she seems to fit in well. Gender lines blur.

In present day England something or somebody is violently killing her sheep. To begin with it she thinks it is kids but as the narrative unfolds this  impression begins to change. It appears that her past is catching up on her and her poor sheep are being made to suffer for her misdeeds. What beast is tearing them apart? Is it the beast of her past rearing its ugly head?

Wyld uses several different animals within the narrative to suggest human characteristics, this is particularly evident in the portrayal of Kelly, her captor Otto’s dog that she is forced to live with for a time in Australia. Kelly torments Jake with her fierce loyalty to Otto, her captor.This novel is full to buzzing with all sorts of insects, birds, sheep, dogs,  fish, oh and a pigeon to mention a few. A quote from the final chapter exemplifies this. “On the beach at low tide after a storm, the sharks that have washed up are the small ones that don’t need to be towed onto the sand spit first. They are just finned on the boats and plopped back into the drink….”

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I can’t find much at all to criticise in Wyld’s book. It is wonderfully written, a stunningly clever book. My only slight niggle and it is very slight, I found it strange that she allowed a complete stranger to stay with her alone on her sheep farm in England.  This seemed at odds with her reluctance to mix and trust her neighbours. Though perhaps this is a hint that she is prone to making impulsive decisions that can sometimes go badly, as in her past? Several reviewers have found fault with the ambiguous ending of the book. I found the ending a challenge I must say, but after much consideration, I thought it was an excellent ending. It was very thought-provoking. I’m not sure I would say the novel is about forgiveness, I think it is more about trust, doing the right thing, and letting go off the past so that you can allow another person into your life, to share life’s difficulties. But that’s just my impression of it! I read the final two chapters several times before I could come to an understanding and to some closure. It is a novel that makes you draw your own conclusions. All the Birds Singing is without doubt a memorable book that in its quiet way draws you into a narrative that is  mysterious and intriguing. One read through may just not be enough!

My star rating – 4.5 stars

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I would highly recommend it for readers of  Literary Fiction, Mystery, and Contemporary Fiction.

Longlisted for the Bailey’s Womans prize for Fiction 2014. In 2013  Evie Wyld was named among Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.

http://www.eviewyld.com – Take a look at her website to see all the lovely book covers for All The Birds Singing, they’re stunning.

Have you read All The Birds Singing? Do leave a comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

 

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