Synopses & Reviews
From one of Grantas New Voices of 2008: a stunningly accomplished debut novel, set in Australia, about the ineffable ties between fathers and sons–about the wars they fight between themselves and with others, and about the things they choose not to know about one another or about themselves.
Frank has driven furiously out of Canberra to a shack by the ocean that he last visited as a teenager. Hes desperate to put certain painful memories behind himincluding the turbulent departure of the woman he lovesand to be alone. But solitude isnt easy to come by in a small town, and the past refuses to lie quiet.
Forty years earlier, Leon returns to Australia from fighting in Vietnam, a broken man no longer able to live with his wife and child, tragically carrying on a family tradition: his father had been similarly torn aparttheir home life destroyedby his experiences in the Korean War.
As the novel unfurls, as these two narratives weave around each other, we learn how Frank and Leon are both connected and perhaps destined to remain separate. Evie Wyldwriting in a voice as fierce as it is freshfolds their stories into a lushly described background, a landscape both comforting and unforgiving. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is the work of a thrilling new talent.
"One of Granta's New Voices of 2008, debut novelist Wyld chronicles the stories of two Australian men and the shards of trauma that have made up both lives. Frank and Leon live parallel lives: the narratives begin with young Leon's father heading to the Korean War, and, 40 years later, with an adult Frank holing up in a decrepit beachfront shack. Leon's father returns from Korea badly damaged, having been in a prison camp, and soon runs away, with Leon's mother giving chase. Later Leon is drafted and faces in Vietnam horrors similar to those that traumatized his father. Meanwhile, in the present day, Frank is starting over after his girlfriend leaves him. Making do in the family shack, he befriends his neighbors and threads together a passable existence in spite of remembered tragedies, anger at his shadowy father and a spate of local children gone missing. 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Set in the haunting landscape of eastern Australia, this is a stunningly accomplished debut novel about the inescapable past: the ineffable ties of family, the wars fought by fathers and sons, and what goes unsaid.
After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank drives out to a shack by the ocean that he had last visited as a teenager. There, among the sugarcane and sand dunes, he struggles to rebuild his life.
Forty years earlier, Leon is growing up in Sydney, turning out treacle tarts at his parents bakery and flirting with one of the local girls. But when hes drafted to serve in Vietnam, he finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father.
As these two stories weave around each other-each narrated in a voice as tender as it is fierce-we learn what binds Frank and Leon together, and what may end up keeping them apart.
About the Author
“Haunting and brilliant.”
—San Francisco Chronicle (recommended reading)
"A superb first novel."
"Just sometimes, a book is so complete, so compelling and potent, that you are fearful of breaking its hold. This is one . . . 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."
"After the Fire, a Still Small Voice has the kind of dark shimmer that mesmerizes as it disturbs . . . What distinguishes Wyld is her incandescent empathy for her male characters and the things they are unable to say, the assurance with which she reaches for a rough-edged authenticity over the easy pleasures of lyricism."
"At last, in a world that shouts, a novel that doesn't need to. A revelation and a joy—wild, wise and wonderful."
—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee
“A mesmerising novel . . . This adroit examination of loss, lostness and trauma is the beginning of great things.”
“An astonishingly assured debut . . . A stunning work from a brilliant new voice.”
“A jewel of a book . . . Will keep you reading past bedtime.”
"A terrifically self-assured debut . . . It's a cauterising, cleansing tale, told with muscular writing."
"Fiction writing at its best with characters so vividly drawn, they seem to literally leap off of the printed pages . . . An enticing debut novel."
"It's not often that I fall for a novel from the very first page, but the controlled and expressive opening to After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is utterly irresistible . . . It is a superb novel."
"The searing descriptions of the changeable land and seascapes make this gritty, passionate novel stand out."
"I loved it. Just stunningly good . . . It has a whole dark and brilliant life of its own. And Jesus, there's not a single false note in the whole book: it's totally convincing, and written with incredible toughness, sureness and maturity. A terrifyingly good debut."
—Peter Hobbs, author of The Short Day Dying
"A sensational debut, rich in literary fireworks and human drama. There are moments here that still the breath—all you can hear is your own heart beating."
—Christopher Kremmer, author of The Carpet Wars
"Evie Wyld has dual nationality [British and Australian] and with the publication of her first novel it is likely both countries will want to claim her as their own . . . A fine debut."
—Bookseller and Publisher (Australia)
"Ravishingly atmospheric and wisely compassionate . . . There's no doubt that Wyld is a writer of immense abilities and depth."
"At times startling, Wyld's book is ruminative and dramatic, with deep reserves of empathy colored by masculine rage and repression . . . The two narrative threads stay separate until the final pages, and, refreshingly, their connection isn't overplayed."
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
"A brilliant, transporting novel of such warmth and stunning evocative language that I wanted to read it all over again. Evie Wyld has a deft way of capturing the light, the nature of the place, of the natives. This is a rich account of two men's lives, separated through time and their own inability to reach out. The two plots, which are two parts of a whole, are ambitious and held together with delicacy and skill. Time does funny things in the book as it would in the desert; it undoes things, rather like this book has done to me."
—Karen McLeod, author of In Search of the Missing Eyelash
"Evie Wyld's book is dark, intense and haunting. The descriptions of Australia's East Coast are vivid, the landscapes, the language, the settings, the feelings are real and palpable. Her prose reminded me of Patrick White's, her imagery of Les Murray and Judith Wright—like all these writers Wyld is both lyrical and tragic, uncompromising in her evocation of that sad, strange, complicated country. She belongs to a tradition of serious Australian literature that is now being taken as seriously as it deserves."
—Sophie Gee, author of The Scandal of the Season
Reading Group Guide
1. In many ways, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice
is about love stories: Franks grandparents, his parents, and his own relationship with Lucy. What do you make of these relationships? What do they say about what is possible between two people, and if there is a price to be paid for love?
2. What part does gender play in the novel? Are the women portrayed differently from the men? If so, in what particular ways?
3. The land and the sea play intimate roles in the lives of all the characters. Have you been to Australia, or any place that reminds you of what you read? Does Wyld capture the essence of the land? How do you think it shapes the characters?
4. Discuss the style of the writing: Did Wyld succeed in expressing the tone of the story in your view? What is that tone? What did you think of her use of simile, specifically with animals and fruit, to describe characters and their actions?
5. Why do you think Wyld chose to make Leons father a baker? Is it a profession that fits his character, and Leons? How did you react to Franks stating that he never understood why his father was a baker, since he was so bad at it?
6. Friendships are hard-fought in the novel, and formed through war and circumstance, with the exception of Franks with Bo Flowers. What do you think of Bo? Why doesnt Frank decide to run off with him? Is the scene where Bo gets into bed with Frank significant?
7. The town where Frank lives is haunted by the disappearance of Joyce Mackelly, and the eventual discovery of her jawbone. The Haydons lose their daughter to leukemia. Leons parents abandon him, never knowing he is off at war. How does the loss and abandonment of children affect the narrative?
8. Compare and contrast the two mens escapes: Leon traveling across the desert and his time at the campsite with other vets; Frank returning to the cabin to which his grandparents originally retreated. How do these journeys mirror or diverge from each other? What do the mens choices say about their personal histories?
9. What is Sals role in the novel, and how is her journey into the bush different from Leons and Franks?
10. Race is an undercurrent throughout the novel, and occasionally an overt issue. What does it mean that Leons parents were Belgian Jews? How is their struggle for a homeland related or separate from the tension between Aboriginal and white Australians?
11. Neither, Leons father, Leon, nor Frank have any siblings. Do children without brothers and sisters carry a bigger burden? Sal is, through the loss of her sister, also an only child. How is her experience and relationship with her parents different or similar to the mens relationships with their parents?
12. Do Leon and his father feel differently about their service, with Leon drafted and his father a volunteer? What emotions do we see in his fathers letters home? What are your own experiences with war? Did the novel help you explore any of your feelings about war, about servicemen and -women, about your own history?
13. Both Frank and Leon hear sounds that seem to follow them-a hiss, a growl, a rustle in the bush. Are they real or imagined noises? Why do you think they hear them?
14. Leon takes photos of himself after his parents leave him and throughout his time in Vietnam. Why do you think he feels the need to do this? Discuss the photographs he takes during the war, and what you think they mean to him. Why does he keep them afterward in an album?
15. The title comes from a biblical verse, which is referenced in several different places in the novel: “After the Earthquake, a fire” (on the lighter that Leon buys, p. 179); “AFTER THE FIRE A STILL SMALL VOICE” (an embroidery that Leon makes, p.235); “After the wind, an earthquake” (Leon waking himself during his journey into the desert, p. 263). Discuss the uses of the title, and what meaning it has for Leon, for Frank, and for the book as a whole.
16. Leon leaves the other vets when they murder a cow who has a calf. When he thought about being a father he “worried he wouldnt love the calf enough” (p. 290). How is the cows death related to his becoming a parent? What do these two scenes suggest about Leons capacity for love?
17. Frank said in the beginning that there are “things that needed to be forgotten about” (p. 4). What does the novel suggest about forgetting? Is it possible? Is it necessary? How does Franks statement connect to Bobs much later, that “there are some things you cant get away from. . . . And thats the pity” (p. 175).
18. Frank speaks with Leons new wife about forgiveness. She believes in biblical forgiveness; Frank believes in the forgiveness between men, between child and parent. Has Frank forgiven his father? Why does he leave without saying good-bye? Does Franks departure suggest that some breaks are unfixable? Are there some things that are unforgivable?
19. The novel goes back and forth between Leon and Frank, but never tells their story together. What do you think about this? What do you imagine their history was like? Would it even be possible to tell the story of their relationship, or would there always be something missing and forever misunderstood between them? What is your own relationship like with your parents? Did the novel, which explores the losses that families bear (sickness, murder, trauma, abuse, or the failure of love for whatever cause), change your understanding of your own family?
20. Do you think Frank has changed by the end of the novel, and, if so, why and in which ways? What do you think of Lucys choices regarding her relationship with Frank? Both Franks and Leons stories close on a note of grace-why do you think Wyld chose these endings for each story line?