After The Fire, A Still Small Voice
UK : Jonathan Cape
US : Knopf
Ambo Anthos (Dutch)
Actes Sud (French).
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After The Fire, A Still Small Voice
***Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 2009***
After the Fire, A Still Small Voice intertwines the story of fathers and sons, their wars and the things they never know about each other. It's about the things men can't say out loud and the taut silence that fills up the empty space. The story is set in eastern Australia with its dark trees and blinding light, where the land is old but its wounds are still wet. In towns lost in the bush, Christian fundamentalism settles on a sleepy meat-eating, meat-farming community who chose to forget the legacy of war and the conflicts between people. Leon and his parents settled there to escape the old wars of Europe, but they find new wars, and eternal tribal divisions. In the fall out from Vietnam, Leon thinks he might be able to make a new life with his woman, make a baby, live by the sea in a small shack. His son Frank thinks he can put his bad memories of his father behind him.But something watches from the cold shade of the teeming bush.
Wyld, one of Granta's New Voices of 2008, writes with abrading intensity and potent lyricism about the stunning amorality of the natural world and the brutishness and suffering of humankind, from domestic violence to war. Ravishingly atmospheric and wisely compassionate, this somber, ambitious first novel attempts to net more sorrows, secrets, and horrors than it can hold, but there's no doubt that Wyld is a writer of immense abilities and depth.
The two narrative threads stay separate until the final pages, and, refreshingly, their connection isn't overplayed. At times startling, Wyld's book is ruminative and dramatic, with deep reserves of empathy colored by masculine rage and repression.
Just sometimes, a book is so complete, so compelling and potent, that you are fearful of breaking its hold. This is one: a novel about (as its title might suggest) devastating damage and the humanity that, almost unfathomably, remains... With Awesome skill and whiplash wit, Evie Wyld knits together past and present, with tension building all the time. In Peter Carey and Tim Winton, Australia has produced two of the finest storytellers working today. On this evidence, Wyld can match them both.
It's not often that I fall for a novel from the very first page, but the controlled and expressive opening to Evie Wyld's After the Fire a Still Small Voice is utterly irresistible. Understated, rhythmic and above all atmospheric, Wyld's prose creates towns, individuals and periods with such conviction you can almost touch them. It is never short of wonderful, but nowhere is it better expressed than in the novel's opening chapter.
It is a deceptively quiet, yet tense, description of Frank Collard's return to his home town - and Wyld pitches it perfectly... I've read this chapter several times now, partly because it's a joy to read and partly to see how she manages to achieve so much with such economy.... Even if someone is slinking home under sufferance, like Karin Schluter in Richard Powers' The Echo Maker, there is a story to be told which has as much drama as a grand return such as Lewis Aldridge in Sadie Jones's The Outcast, or that of Heathcliff himself. Evie Wyld's debut novel mines this rich seam with astonishing and powerful results. It is a superb novel, and one to which I look forward to returning.
Stuart Evers, Guardian Online
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