Jake, the main character in this novel by Evie Wyld, is a tough woman, living alone on her sheep farm on a small British island. To some, it might appear to be a lonely life, there with her dog named Dog, but Jake wants to be alone. Except someone—or something—is killing her sheep. A neighbor, Don, inspects the body of the latest kill:
“Minks might tear a sheep up, after she’s dead. Or a fox.” He lifted the ewe’s head to take a look at the eyes. “Eyes are gone,” he said; “could be something killed her and then everything else took their pickings.” He lifted the head higher and looked underneath where her ribs made a cave. He frowned. “But I’ve never seen anything round here flense an animal like that.”
The mysterious sheep killer isn’t Jake’s only worry. She’s also haunted by her past, which is revealed in chapters that alternate with the present-day story. The chapters about her past move backward, so we learn about her final months in Australia and her fear of a man named Otto before we learn what Otto did to frighten her. Then we see how Otto terrorized her before learning how they came to be in a relationship. And all the while, there are scars on her back that hint at some more terrifying experience, yet to be revealed.
The writing in All the Birds, Singing is often quite good. I liked the descriptions of island life, and there are some great sequences in Jake’s past. Although Jake is bristly and often unpleasant, I liked her. I liked that she was choosing to live her way. But the book had some problems, primarily structural, that kept it from being a really good book.
My main criticism is that the backward revelations are far more compelling than the present-day mystery. The sheep killings are creepy, and there are some genuinely frightening moments in the story of Jake’s island life. But that story seems stretched to fit the gaps in between the story of her past. The past story is far more eventful. (And I mean that literally. It is full of events. The present-day story isn’t.)
Plus, as much as I love an ambiguous ending, this one was too ambiguous. I don’t necessarily need the author to tell me the answer, but I like being able to feel that the answer exists. There can even be multiple answers, as long as they’re all equally plausible. But the present-day mystery of what is killing the sheep is so underdeveloped that the final (sort of) answer seems to come out of nowhere. It’s entirely possible that I missed some crucial hints along the way, but, as it is, the ending didn’t make much sense.
I read this with my book group, and the general consensus was that it was good, but not great. Worth reading, but not amazing. So maybe give it a try if it sounds interesting, but don’t rush out to grab a copy.