After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (2009) – Evie WYLD

I’ve been looking at the book for a long time – the early reviews were good, and Evie Wyld guest blogged on the Random House Blog for a week. I finally found a copy of it lying in the back room, and have been reading it in the gaps between rehearsals for a play. While the play isn’t over yet, I have finished the novel.

Frank has escaped to the South Coast, running away from his past and his demons. He moves into a shack owned by his grandparents, and begins to become involved in the small town thinking of the locals. Meanwhile, Leon Collard is growing up in 50s Australia, the son of immigrants, his father a baker. His father goes to war, and is never the same, though. And soon enough, he too is called to Vietnam, where nothing will ever be the same again.

This is not a complicated novel. Despite the two discrete storylines, they gel together quite nicely. They are noticeably different, but this simply serves to strengthen the link between them. I don’t know if it’s just me who’s a bit thick, but there is, eventually, a definite link between the two stories that makes everything tie together in a way that definitely makes this novel more than the sum of its parts. I’m going to talk about it here, because I don’t think I can properly talk about the novel without it, so look away if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So it turns out that Leon is Frank’s father, and this really ties into what I believe the main theme of this novel to be – that of fathers and sons, and family relationships. Both men have fathers which have been less than helpful while they were growing up, and so they are forced to rely on themselves for most of their strength. This cycle is handed down from generation to generation, and it’s a bit depressing when you think about it. What makes this better, though, is that Wyld gives us some hope – Frank befriends a young girl whose own family has its own problems, and their relationship is touching.

With two stories next to each other, it’s hard not to pick a favourite. Indeed, it seems to be human nature to compare. And, alas, I am no different. Personally, I thought the Leon half was the better of the two – but not by much. I love Leon as a character, a young man abandoned by his parents trying desperately to salvage their own relationship, with no room for their own son. Even though they constantly beg for him to join them down the coast, I wonder if they knew that he would never act upon these invitations. The Vietnam sections are also nicely done, but it is the post-Vietnam stuff that really makes this novel worth it. As you begin to realise what is happening, and who Frank and Leon really are, the novel really picks up, and the final chapters are beautifully portrayed – the introduction of religion adds something that really forces you to think carefully about the relationship between these two men. Having them not meet is also important, I think – they have nothing to say to each other, and keeping these two stories discreet is the best way to ensure the disconnect is done properly.

A quick note on the writing itself. I love it! Wyld is an excellent writer, and of particular note is the dialogue, which is beautifully done. Frank’s colloquial rhythms, and the colloquialisms of the locals with which he interacts, are perfectly done, and contribute to a uniquely Australian writing style. It’s something that I think only a few Australian authors actually dare to do, and I love that Wyld has done this in her first novel. Hopefully this is a style she will propagate and use in her later work.

After the Fire, A Still Small Voice is a strong, assured debut. It is not a complicated story, but it allows focus onto two excellently drawn men, both flawed in their own way, and somewhat dysfunctional. This is a definite ‘yes’ from me.

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