All The Birds Singing
Random House AU
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Jake White lives on an island, alone with only 50 head of sheep for company. She bought the property from older farmer Don and although tries to convince Jake to socialise among the small, tight-knit community, maybe come down to the pub occasionally, Jake refuses. She keeps to herself, doing all the jobs around the farm with only the occasional assistance from Don.
Then Jake begins losing sheep – finding just the shredded remains. The predator could be anything but what’s left of the carcasses doesn’t seem like anything Jake’s ever seen before. And she feels like something is out there in the woods beyond the paddock, watching her. With only Dog for company, Jake is surprised to find a man in her barn one night, bedding down to sleep. She intends to move him on but the night is cold and the weather bad and so she allows him to stay. After that she intends to take him in to town but events conspire against her and eventually Lloyd stays, becoming a part of life on the farm even though he knows nothing about farming.
Interspersed with the story of Jake farming her sheep alone are events from her past, living and working on various sheep stations in outback hot, dusty Australia, shaping her decision to live a solitary life in the present.
This is a really difficult book for me to review. I knew as soon as I finished it that I would really struggle. It’s a difficult story to really articulate because there are several threads, none of which really marry up and there are numerous things that are never resolved by the end of the book. In fact, very little is resolved by the end of the book.
Jake grew up in Australia and spent time working on remote sheep stations around the Port Hedland area. She’s had some terrible things happen to her in her life, she’s worked as a prostitute, she was offered a “better life” by a former client which turned into a nightmare hostage situation and then there was her time working as a shearer where she was involved in a relationship with a man named Greg, but facing difficulty from another shearer who knew secrets from her past. And in the present she lives alone on a small farm tending to 50 sheep. She’s a very tough character, particularly physically. She’s honed her physique by working out and by shearing – tough, hard labour, keeping up with men. She’s closed off, remote – she’s shut all her emotions down and she doesn’t want to connect with people or know how to do it. Don makes repeated offers that she socialise, make herself known to the other farmers in the district because she never knows when she might need a bit of help – it’s a hard life and almost impossible to do on your own.
I think the problem I had with this book was the back and forth narrative. There was nothing to indicate which time period we were in a lot of the time and I’d have to stumble my way through each section, trying to figure out where this memory was from and when it had taken place. There was no indication of time, nothing to really anchor my thoughts in helping map out some sort of timeline for Jake’s life. All the memories were just fragments and they didn’t satisfy me – I was always left wanting to know more about Jake’s life in Australia, what had happened to force her into several situations and in the end, how she had come to be on the unnamed island. The premise was so very exciting but the execution of the plotline of what is attacking the sheep just felt really lacking for me. I was always feeling like I had more questions that answers and that’s not something that I enjoy.
All of the fragments of this story were potentially great – Jake was a character I wanted to know more about, I wanted to get to know her. I could sympathise with her and I could understand the way in which she’d chosen to live. The writing will no doubt appeal to many – it’s a very stripped back and bare narrative. But for me, I’d have liked it to be more wordy – this is a pretty slim book, only 240p. I’d have loved more depth to this story. Unfortunately the simple bareness of it didn’t really work for me. However I am really in the minority for this book because it seems that almost all of the other reviews are incredibly positive.
Book #184 of 2013
All The Birds Singing is the 73rd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.