Monday, 4 January 2010

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice


After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld is a very accomplished début that I savoured slowly towards the end of 2009. I knew from early on that it would become a favourite book from the year; I also thought that it had a beautiful cover. Set in Australia, the novel tells the stories of two men, Frank and Leon, with no apparent connection, separated by some decades. Frank has moved to coast-line country following the deterioration of his current relationship to live in a shack-like house in New South Wales that once belonged to his parents; his narrative charts settling into that stark landscape whilst flash-backing to his turbulent relationships with both his ex and his father. Leon's story recalls growing up in Sydney in a bakery run by his European-immigrant parents, his father's enlistment in the Korean War and his own conscription to Vietnam, his subsequent time there and acclimatisation upon his return.

I enjoyed the alternate narratives; the key to a working structure of this kind is when both compel you so much that when one ends you want it to continue but then are fully engaged in the other as soon as it switches. Where the structure was strong, the richness of description was astonishing. I found the evocation of Australia striking; the starkness of the landscape and organic wildness seemed to capture the rawness of the emotions, the violence and rage that permeates the text. There is an intensity to After the Fire, a Still Small Voice and a resounding savagery but ultimately this story about violence is also one about communication. This section of the dust-jacket's blurb is one of the most appealing and succinct descriptions that I must quote it:

[T]his beautifully realised debut tells a story of fathers and sons, their wars and the things they will never know about each other. It is about the things men cannot say out loud and the taut silence that fills up the empty space.

"The taut silence that fills up the empty space"- isn't that an elegant description? It is true; Wyld achieves a credible fictional study of masculinity and how the male psyches communicate in a world where violence is often the means to articulate themselves. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is an original novel and one that I thoroughly enjoyed and thought deserving of its John Llewellyn Rhys Prize win. From Frank's awkward yet touching friendship with seven year old Sal to his rage at his father and girlfriend and Leon's sculpting of sugar dolls for cakes to his role as machine-gun runner in Vietnam, there is a balance and contrast between gentleness and violence that is well-realised. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is an impressive début with two complex and tormented male leads and beautiful prose; I predict that it will receive more accolades and that there will be promising things to read from Evie Wyld in the future.

15 comments:

Steph said...

When you mentioned how well the text evoked Australia for you, I immediately thought of Per Petterson's "Out Stealing Horses" which I read last year and liked largely because of how vividly it conjured up rural Norway for me. I love when books truly are able to transport you way to some place other (especially when you've never been there yourself).

I'm also glad you mentioned the balance in the two narratives - often times I find that authors have a difficult time crafting equally compelling stories when they follow multiple characters. That or they fail to create equally distinct voices for them, which is also really disappointing. Sounds like Wyld avoids all these pitfalls though, and this is one I'll have to keep an eye out for.

saveophelia said...

I've seen this on three or four blogs now and the more I learn about the story-line, the more intrigued I am by the book. I put it on hold as soon as I finished reading your review. 1 of 1 holds on 6 copies. (:

Kals said...

I've never heard if Evie Wyld till this review. Her book definitely seems to be one worth checking out.

I have an award for you! :)
http://atpemberley.blogspot.com/2010/01/award.html

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I heard Kim talking about it, but Steph's comparison to Out Stealing Horses worries me - I got really bored with that book. Do you think they are similar? Is this book too quiet for me?

Paperback Reader said...

Steph, I have Out Stealing Horses on my TBR and look forward to being transported to rural Norway. I love when a good book allows me to experiences places I have never been IRL.

Wyld balances the narratives and both Frank and Leon are thoroughly complex and well-rounded; I thought that their voices were distinct enough although there are intentional similarities between them.

Lena, I hope you enjoy it when your request comes through. It is an intriguing story, especially how the narratives work together.

Kals, Wyld is definitely a writer to look out for. Thank you for the award.

Jackie, I haven't read Out Stealing Horses yet but Steph only likened how well that evoked the setting too. This is a quiet novel in some respects but I think you should read it; it's too good to miss, especially when it appealed to you in the first instance.

Aarti said...

What a gorgeous review! I like the title AND the cover of this one. Will definitely look into checking it out. Thanks!

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Aarti! The title is great and the significance of it is revealed within the novel.

savidgereads said...

Sorry Claire tried commenting on your lovely post about this wonderful book the other day when blogger wouldnt let me. You know i am in agreement about this book completely!

Jo said...

I've got this lined up for this month, and I've read nothing but good things about it so it keeps getting pushed further and further up the pile.

Rebecca Reid said...

It sounds so pretty! And thoughtful and soft. Thanks for the nice review.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I'm glad that we both read and loved this book! It was a joy to read.

Jo, I hope you find it as beautiful to read as I did when you do pick it up.

Rebecca, it is all of those things! A beautifully-written, meditative, emotionally-charged book with an evocative setting.

kimbofo said...

Great review, Claire, and so pleased you enjoyed the book. Her descriptions of Australia, especially small-town life, are absolutely pitch-perfect.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Kim, and welcome back. It seemed pitch-perfect even to someone with no experience of small-town Australia; there was something so real and vivid about the setting that was almost startling.

Sandra said...

Lovely review. I too really liked this story too. I do hope she's working on another book.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Sandra, thanks for commenting. This was a lovely book and I will anticipate anything Evie Wyld may be working on with excitement.