Evie Wyld: After the Fire, a Still Small Voice
It’s a story about traumatised men, not talking and scary things that people try to ignore, Evie Wyld has said of her novel and this more or less sums it up. It is mainly set in a fairly remote part of Australia and tells the story of to men – Frank and Leon – separated by a generation or more and seemingly unconnected with one another. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. Frank has met and fallen for Lucy and they live together. But Frank has a violent streak and he has knocked Lucy around once too often and she has left. Frank’s mother had died in a car accident when he was a child and he has a difficult relationship with his father, whom he barely sees. He decides to set off in his ute and heads for the remote shack, that had been his parents’.
Frank’s story is about how he tries to come to terms with his life and how he tries to establish a new life for himself. He meets the neighbours – Bob and Vicky Haydon – and becomes friendly with them. They have a daughter, Sal, something of a tomboy. But he also learns of the disappearance of a young girl, Joyce Mackelly, who had been dating an aborigine. Frank, thanks to Bob, manages to find a job at the marina, where he meets another strange group of men, who all tend to be loners. Linus, an aboriginal-looking man, is the only one he becomes close to, apart from Bob. Bob and Vicky are very friendly with Frank, in Vicky’s case, perhaps too friendly, as is their daughter, who volunteers to come and help Frank with his garden. When Sal disappears at more or less the same time Frank decides to go back to Sydney for a while, suspicion naturally falls on him.
We meet Leon Collard in 1952, dated by the fact that the King of England has just died, presumably George VI. His parents run a bakery and cake shop and enjoy decorating fancy cakes for their customers. They were Dutch Jews, who had left the Netherlands for Australia when the persecution of the Jews started. Leon will pick up their skill and enthusiasm. Like Frank, he also shows a violent streak, when he gets into fight at school with another boy. But then Leon’s father decides to go off and fight in the Korean War. Leon’s mother is not happy about it but they do get regular letters back and Leon starts to help in the shop. Then he is taken prisoner and though he does come back, he is a broken man. He cannot work, he drinks and is completely anti-social. Leon does have a girl he is interested in – a neighbour called Amy Blackwell – but is awkward with her and though they do see each other, she eventually leaves town. Leon will eventually get called up for service in Vietnam and he goes, where he sees death and destruction. He will come back alive but clearly it has had an effect on him.
As Wyld said in her interview, this book is about traumatised men not talking. Frank is clearly traumatised by the break-up of his relationship with Lucy and though he establishes a relationship with Bob, Vicky and Sal as well as one or two of his workmates, there is still a boundary between him and others, not least as he seems to spend much time on his own. Like Leon, he has a difficult relationship with his father. Leon is certainly more balanced than Frank but he is also a bit of a loner, an only child of immigrant parents, happiest decorating fancy cakes yet, like his father, prepared to do his duty, even if this involves killing foreigners who have probably never even heard of Australia or the Netherlands. It is certainly a very well-written novel about the subject of communication and the lack of it and men having difficulty coming to terms with the violence inside them but I am not sure that this novel shows that Wyld is one of the twenty best British writers under forty.
First published in 2009 by Pantheon