I first heard of Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, A Still Small Voice when it was published back in 2009 but I sadly didn’t get round to reading it. Her inclusion in Granta’s list of Best Young British Novelists 2013 and the publication of her new novel All the Birds, Singing reminded me and led me to pick up her debut novel.
The novel tells the story of two men, decades apart, through alternating chapters. Frank has escaped to his grandparents’ shack in the Australian countryside in an attempt to get over the breakdown of his relationship and escape his troubled past. Leon, the son of immigrant parents who own a bakery, witnesses his father returning from the Korean war, and he has to take over as the head of the household as his father returns home a different man. Leon is then conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Both Frank and Leon’s stories are alternated throughout which makes the reader attempt to discover how, or why, these stories are linked.
This description seems to simplify the plot far too much – the plot is intricate, with other stories interweaved around the bare bones of the story outline above. Fatherhood, the effect of war, the pattern of family life and unspoken emotion are just some of the ideas explored.
Landscape is a major feature of Wyld’s writing and, although at times it can seem to slow the plot, her descriptions are vivid and original. Descriptions are another prominent feature of her writing, and it is something that she excels at. The descriptions are characterised by their stark originality, and they so vividly evoke the landscape and feelings that these two men are going through. Similarly, the realistic depiction of war and its effects on a man and his family is poignant. There are also some beautiful, striking recurring images throughout the book that add to its subtle power.
For the entirety of the novel, Wyld gets deep into the mindset of these two characters, instantly evoking these two lonely and sad men who are scarred by battles, both personal and public. The complex characters sometimes exhibit dislikeable traits, but Wyld gets us to see past this, not only because we know their pasts, but because of how she has so truthfully depicted these men. Although their actions may not always be explained, they are not implausible.
Not everything is always explained throughout the book, and Wyld knows when to hold back. The excellent characterisation of her two principal characters means that the silence doesn’t make readers feel underwhelmed or as if the story is lacking, but instead leaves a novel full of unspoken emotion which holds so much power.
I’d highly recommend After the Fire, A Still Small Voice. Evie Wyld’s effortless prose, original descriptions and compelling storytelling help to create an accomplished debut novel.