Monday, 18 January 2010

After the Fire, A Still, Small Voice by Evie Wyld

After The Fire, A Still, Small Voice is a quiet, subdued novel but it's not the worse for it! Told in alternate narratives, it deals with various themes, the main one being the relationships formed, destroyed and ignored,mainly parental, but also between husbands and wives (or boyfriend and girlfriend). A big theme is also the horrors of war, specifically the Korean, then the Vietnam war, and the effect fighting can have on a person and their families.

Leon is a child when we are first introduced to him, the child of immigrant parents in Australia. His family owns a bakery, which his father is passionate about, and passes this passion on to Leon. All is good until his father goes off to fight in the Korean war, leaving Leon and his mother at home to run the business alone. Leon starts to take this on all alone, as his mother becomes more and more withdrawn with her worry for her husband.

Running alongside this is the story of Frank, a man fleeing from a relationship which has caused him to be violent, to his parents run down shack in the Australian countryside. He is a broken man, and obviously has issues with his parents as well as himself, as the first thing he does when he arrives is rid the place of anything that may remind him of them. He starts finds himself in a very close knit community, but also one that is wary of strangers, understandably since he arrives just at the time when a young girl has disappeared, leaving no trace.

It doesn't take long to work out exactly how the three men in this story are related. Leon's father soon passes out of the story, as he returns from the war mentally exhausted, a state from which he never really recovers and moves off to a rundown shack in the countryside, and Leon's mother soon follows. This leaves Leon alone to run the bakery, until the day comes when he is called up to join the Vietnam war. In his father's story, we are left to imagine the horrors he witnessed/experienced, but with Leon we are thrown right into the action and follow the horrors in person, from when he joins, to when he leaves.

The dual narrative works really well in this story as by juxtaposing the men's lives it is easy to see how the events that happened to Leon have impacted on his relationship with his son, Frank. It is apparent early on that Frank does not have a strong relationship with his father, although the real reasons why are not revealed until the end. I think though by seeing how Leon's fathers unknown experiences affected him, and therefore Leon, it is easy to imagine how the horrors described in Leon's time in Vietnam could have impacted on Frank.

The main thing that struck me was that nobody ever talked about these things. Leon's father just withdrew into himself, and it is to be assumed that Leon did exactly the same thing, although in a different way. Things are left unsaid and unspoken. Just as Leon never talked to his father, Frank never spoke to his and both never really did. Frank's loner attitude to life is really well described, and seems to be accentuated by the rough, wild landscape that he finds himself in. In fact all the landscape in this book is describes impeccably, and really jumps out off the page. From urban Sydney, war torn Vietnam and the wilds of the Australian countryside, complete with slightly threatening wildlife and something un-named watching from the shadows.


coffeestainedpages said...

I was eyeing this one off at Borders today, it sounds really good!

Paperback Reader said...

Australia is so well-evoked in this book, startlingly so.

The things that are left unsaid and unspoken is the tragedy of this book and how the sins of the father repeat.

I thought this was a haunting, well-realised debut novel that I enjoyed, savoured and will remember.