Red dust and orig­i­nal sins

All the Birds, Singing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Geordie Wil­liamson

By Evie Wyld Vin­tage, 228pp, $32.95

THE word rape comes from the Latin rap­ere, mean­ing to seize or snatch. But the term can also re­fer to the tear­ing of prey. Evie Wyld’s sec­ond novel ex­ploits this et­y­mo­log­i­cal am­bi­gu­ity for fic­tional ends. Her ac­count of a young woman’s de­scent into prostitution and sex­ual slav­ery in Aus­tralia’s Top End is dev­as­tat­ing in plot out­line, John Fowles’s The Col­lec­tor with red dust. Yet the psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sures that at­tend the girl’s ex­pe­ri­ence also leak into the outer nar­ra­tive, giv­ing the novel’s chief set­tings — the Pil­bara and an un­named is­land off Bri­tain’s coast — an un­canny air. The author sets her cre­ations’ men­tal mon­sters loose hav­ing given them real teeth and claws.

Wyld is ide­ally equipped to di­vide the novel’s ge­og­ra­phy. She spent part of her child­hood in Aus­tralia and ev­i­dently has eide­tic re­call for the tex­ture of place and time. Ev­ery­one smokes Hol­i­days and watches an­tipodean soap op­eras on TV. Her ear for Aus­tralian slang of re­cent decades re­mains keen too, and she uses its coarse hu­mour to float her char­ac­ters above deeper cur­rents of feel­ing and de­sire. The author, how­ever, is based in Bri­tain th­ese days; she was in­cluded in Granta mag­a­zine’s re­cent up­dated list of Bri­tain’s best young nov­el­ists. If those sec­tions deal­ing with Bri­tain are more vaguely de­scribed, we can pre­sume that this muddy, windswept land­scape is a photo-neg­a­tive of Aus­tralia’s harsh clar­i­ties. The is­land is a metaphysical as much as a phys­i­cal place: iso­la­tion mapped and charted.

Jake Whyte is the char­ac­ter who links th­ese mi­lieus. We first meet her on the small prop­erty she has pur­chased from a lo­cal farmer, an Aussie far from home. She keeps a mob of sheep, which she watches over with care and pan­icky at­ten­tive­ness that bor­ders on the ob­ses­sive. For com­pan­ion­ship she has a dog whose name — Dog — in­di­cates an un­will­ing­ness to strengthen any emo­tional at­tach­ment be­yond a bare min­i­mum.

Wear­ing a self-cut fringe and ha­bit­u­ally clothed in grimy dun­ga­rees, Jake has so suc­cess­fully erased her gen­der that the reader is driven to con­fused re-read­ing. Why is our at­ten­tion re­turned again and again to the mas­cu­line broad­ness of her shoul­ders? And

Evie Wyld ex­plores the dark side of Aus­tralian mas­culin­ity

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