After the Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld

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Winner of 2009 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best work of literature by a UK or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under

I have heard a few people rave about this book, certain that this is going to win numerous literary awards in 2010; so I thought I should get a head start on the prize lists and read it beofre all those long lists are announced.

After the Fire, A Still Small Voice is set in Australia and is split into two different narratives. The first follows Frank who moves to an old shack previously owned by his grandparents, to escape his violent relationships.

The second focuses on Leon, the child of European immigrants who sought refuge in Australia after their lives were threatened in WWII. Their new life is shattered when his father volunteers to fight in the Korean war.

This book is beautifully written and there are some evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape, but I’m afraid the plot was too gentle for me. The style reminded me of Brooklyn in that the story and prose are very simple, but the emotion is there, bubbling under the surface.

I am sure that this book will pick up some more award nominations, but it was too quiet for me. If you love gentle stories examining relationships and the sense of belonging then you’ll love this book, but I need a bit more action in my novels.


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  1. As you know, I was one of the people raving about this book. I’m sorry that its prose and gentle story wasn’t enough for you, that you didn’t love it as much as I did, but I feel even more sure now of your taste and have come to expect that the gentle ones just aren’t for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I do appreciate the skill of the writing, but I just prefer books with a good plot. At least now you know my taste you’ll be able to recommend books to me more easily! Thanks for lending me the book. I hope you’ll enjoy the ones I lent you slightly more.

  2. Sandy says:

    I’m totally OK with gentle. Sometimes I need that. But I find that to be blown away, and remember a book for weeks after I’ve finished, I need something a little more. I need shock, I need twists, I need complex plots. Too many of these can wear out my little brain, but those are the ones that stay with me. (BTW, I just started Stone’s Fall!)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, If you like shock, twists and complex plots then I’m sure you’ll love Stone’s Fall! I look forward to seeing your review.

  3. Beth F says:

    I’m fine with gentle and I like the Australian setting. But the writing had better be great.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, The Australian setting is one of the best things about this book. I think the writing in this book is fantastic, so I’d love to know your thoughts.

  4. diane says:

    I do have this book, but have not read it. Thanks for the honest review.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I will be interested to see what you think of this one. I hope you get round to reading it soon.

  5. JoAnn says:

    I like gentle… and the comparison to Brooklyn is a definite plus for me! Perhaps these gentle novels are not be your cup of tea, Jackie ;-)

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, Gentle novels aren’t for me, but sometimes one will surprise me. I’m too nosy to leave a book I’ve heard so many wonderful things about unread!

  6. Amanda says:

    I’m okay with gentle, quiet books, but i do like there to be SOME plot.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, There is a tiny bit of plot in this. I’d say on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the most complex plot ever and 1 no plot at all this would rank a 3/10. Not sure if that is enough for you?

  7. Good review. I love the cover of this book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sheila, It is a beautiful cover!

  8. Lu says:

    This book is gorgeous, from the title to the cover art. I can’t wait to read it, even if the plot was not what you hoped.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, I’m sure that you’ll love it! I know I am very fussy about my plot levels!

  9. I’ve gotten the same way, with movies too – I need lots of action. I feel badly about it though – I feel like some stereotypical victim of our “instant gratification” society and everything in a hurry orientation. I even eat fast now! Perhaps there would have been more people liking such a book ten or twenty years ago!

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, Interestingly I don’t need action in my films, but I have quite a short attention span with them and don’t like watching more than 30 mins at once.

      I’d love to know how appreciaition for gentle plots has changed over the years, but I’m not sure that it will have altered much. I think the ‘instant gratification’ society are more likely to shun books altogether than only go for action. I could be very wrong though – perhaps I’m just being defensive!

  10. Simon S says:

    I have to say I adored this book, utterly adored it. I didnt realise you were going to read it, I didnt think it would be a you book I have to say. I am hoping this one will appear in the Orange longlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I think that it will probably appear on the Orange long list. I think I’ve spotted quite a few potential ornages this year, so look forward to finding out if I’m right!

  11. Dan Holloway says:

    I’m ambivalent about gentle vs plot – for me it depends on the type of prose in which the gentle is written. I love fluid, poetic gentle like The English Patient, but I really don’t like florid and overwhelming amounts of minutiae. I think people often excuse overegging the description and characterisation by saying “ah but it’s a gentle read”. For me, a gentle read needs to be even leaner than a plot-driven potboiler – in the latter you at least have the plot to take your mind off dodgy writing. If you overdo the adjectives in a gentle read there is nowhere to hide – it’s like wading through a quagmire. The same with music – slow pieces are so much more unforgiving to play than ones that jostle along. But if the composer gets it right, then bingo (see under Radiohead)!

    I’m never 100% sure when people say they admire the writing whether they mean it’s “accomplished” (which often means it reads turgidly) or they actually mean it’s elegant, fluid, flows like honey but just not for them. I will certainly look this book up, though, and the opening pages will probably tell me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, I think this is an elegant, fluid book. Let me know if you think the same once you’ve read a few lines!

  12. Jo says:

    I enjoyed this. I think the writing made up for lack of plot. I think the vietnam bits were my favourite though, rather than the Australian parts.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, The Vietnam bits were more emotional, so I did like reading them, but I loved the Australian atmosphere, so think I prefered that bit. 3.5 stars is a very good rating for me, considering the lack of plot and that just shows how good the writing is.

  13. Tracey says:

    Jackie – I always appreciate your honesty even when a book is not quite for you. I enjoyed your review and everybody’s comments. I’m not an awards expert by any stretch but I think too that it will appear on a list or two somewhere this year. I thought the writing was stunning but agree that it had a very gentle pace.

    I’m intrigued about your other orange ideas!

    1. Jackie says:

      Tracey, I’ll do an Orange ideas post soon. I look forward to seeing what others suggest in the comments.

  14. Samantha says:

    I had a suspicion that this book is like you have described it here – but since I loved Brooklyn I think it may well be up my alley and local Australian settings are always nice :-)

  15. Kathleen says:

    I think if I am in the right mood this is the kind of novel that I can really enjoy. But like you, I tend to favor books that have a bit more going on. I do love the cover though!

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