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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

In Print(7) . . .

After The Fire, A Still Small Voice, By Evie Wyld

As in all catastrophe, war creates its own aftermath. It leaves in its wake all manner of human detritus – physical or emotional – alone to cope with its horrors in silence. Evie Wyld's debut novel attempts to decipher the trauma of war. Unfolding in eastern Australia, within an unrelenting landscape, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice tells the stories of fathers and sons learning to cope with the realities of wars they do not understand.

Following a miserable relationship, Frank moves to his grandparents' old shack by the sea. He tries to fit in with the local community, living off the land, drinking heavily and trying to make sense of his shattered life. Leon, the son of European immigrants, witnesses the breakdown of his family after his father returns from the Korean war a changed man, before finding himself conscripted as a machine-gunner in Vietnam – leaving him with no other alternative but to escape.

Landscape plays a major role in Wyld's writing. It opens up the narrative, creating an eerie metaphorical space, or silence, between each character, mirroring the physical and mental fissures that separate each generation. Although nothing is truly silent: even the landscape is "thick with insect noise". The power of this mesmerising novel hangs on the premise that silence is impossible, while such impossibility forces the men who litter its landscape to desire it all the more.

Frank seeks a silence his father and grandfather could never attain. Leon, like his own father, is seeking the same but, like the echo of a machine-gun, each reverberation hangs too heavily to ignore. Both are suspended in a present that doesn't belong to them. Within this space there is nothing to do other than look back at the catastrophes that have shaped their lives.

Wyld's writing is assured enough to elongate metaphor and symbolism, creating a novel both taut and otherworldly. This adroit examination of loss, lostness and trauma is the beginning of great things.

[original source: The Independent, Wednesday, 23 September 2009]


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