I'm Abby, and I read pretty much every genre you can think of. Mainly, I'm interested in women's stories of any kind; and inclusive books are my forte.
this is a book that mainly consists of these three themes: isolation, guilt, and how people will always try to escape the past.
jake whyte is a tough australian who has immigrated to britain to run a sheep farm. it’s, in some ways, jake’s way of cutting herself off from the rest of the world, and gradually we see that this is her main goal. more than anything, she wants to be left alone. her sole companion on the farm is her dog, who is also called dog. dog and jake make an excellent pair, and one of the main connecting threads throughout the novel is jake’s relationship not only with dog, but also with sheep, and kelly, and the birds that haunt her during the course of the novel. the only things we know about jake in the beginning are: jake is strong; jake is completely isolated; and jake is running from something. what is it exactly? slowly, through chapters interspersing the main present narrative, jake’s history is told backwards. i honestly can’t go into depth about any of her past life without spoiling the whole thing, though, so i’ll leave it at that for now.
my main issue with the novel was probably wyld’s prose. i see people praising wyld’s writing, but i didn’t think it was anything special. there are bits and pieces of really superb writing, but that’s all they are. the only place there seems to be usage of commas is in the title. i also felt that, particularly in the beginning, wyld struggles with capturing a scene; the writing is largely, “i did this, and then i did that, and then i thought this,” and for a while it grated on my nerves. luckily the prose improves as the book goes on, and it’s also engaging enough that the writing is at the back of your mind. wyld does excel, though, at painting a picture when it comes to the grimmer scenes. whenever she writes about the slaughter of sheep, or the maggot encrusted wool, or the filthy place that jake once resided in – she’s great. i was totally nauseated by the descriptions and the things that happened in this book, and in my opinion, that signals wlyd’s success.
oh, which reminds me: something is picking off jake’s sheep. jake’s gut reaction is that it’s the nasty tempered kids in town who enjoy harassing her, but everyone around her (like don, and later lloyd) are not so convinced. and jake knows something or someone is out there, watching her. she can feel it in the walls; she can sense the subtlest shifting in the air, her skin prickles, and she can tell that she is no longer alone. several times, something enters jake’s house. but “it” never touches jake. despite this, jake sleeps with a hammer under her bed, a box of knives later on, and she makes sure her rifle is never far off. we witness jake’s desperate need to make sure that she is safe, that she can fend for herself, and that she does not need the help of anyone but herself and dog. but when jake finds a stranger drunk and injured in her barn, her quite solitude is thrown off its course. this stranger is called lloyd, and really, he’s a joyful little character. he’s strange but kind, and with some tentativeness jake and lloyd begin to strike up a friendship. i think some people find lloyd to be underdeveloped, and i might agree with this if not for a few things: i think it serves a point. besides the funniness and strangeness of his personality, we have little inkling as to why lloyd is there, or what he’s doing, or where he comes from. and the point is, is that from lloyd’s view, it’s the same with jake. jake and lloyd don’t need to know the details of each other’s past lives, because the present is the only thing that matters now. they focus on the sheep and trying to find out why they’re being killed, but they don’t talk deeply about themselves. occasionally, lloyd will ask things like, “do you have any children?” and when jake says, “no,” he simply replies, “me neither.” they leave it at that. i think it’s a simple reflection not only of jake’s loneliness and the fact that there are people out there who are able to interact without having to know the sordid lives that others might have lived before you’ve met them. jake is one of those people.
it’s also built off of jake’s own regrets, guilt and desire (above all else) to escape from what she has done and what she’s experienced. we know full well that jake has no longing to tell lloyd about what she comes from, and i think she both extends that courtesy to lloyd, and also does not want to know about his past either way. so, therefore, the interactions we read between lloyd and jake, the fact that he sings to dog and dances when he’s alone, and that he despises jake’s hair, that’s all we need to know. as readers we yearn to know about him, about his history, but we don’t need to know. i think that’s a big part of the novel, in some ways, despite the fact that we (of course) learn about jake’s life.
i was desperate to know where jake had gotten those scars, and i was desperate to know what had driven her to abandon everything. this could be an extremely quick read (i read it very quickly regardless), but it’s so, so tough to read. i mean – it’s full of extremely grotesque details, and if you have a tendency to a weak stomach, it probably isn’t the best thing to read. truthfully, i have a proneness to a weak stomach and i’m highly emotional, but i got through it fine. it’s difficult to read the things that jake goes through, and the consistent animal death (and not in nice, quick ways) is hard to swallow. but i think the good majority of it is necessary. life on a sheep farm – or literally any kind of farm – is not easy, and it isn’t pretty, and it parallels nicely with jake’s own rough past; and with her self-imposed isolation, perhaps things are made tougher. similarly, this book is filled to the brim with misogyny and its results, and it’s made obvious that for someone like jake (tough, unfeminine, bristly, someone who cannot be touched) interactions with most men are pointless and mostly negative. still, she finds solace in lloyd’s company, and of course there is also greg. but most of the kindnesses that jake’s given come from women, like the owner of the café, or the young teenage marcie, or karen, or the woman who gives jake shelter after she…leaves a certain place. we see that, mostly, women stick together. it isn’t always true, of course, especially as we learn about jake’s past, but the element is there regardless. there’s also the quality of homophobia (the men and their threatened masculinity, what else?) both amongst the men jake works with at one point, and people in jake’s life before that.
i just want to note that i really enjoyed jake, and i think her relationships with dog and lloyd are expertly pulled off, and i felt i could sympathize with jake greatly. i also think her interactions with otto and everyone else show us such interesting qualities to her.
so, so far, sounds pretty good, huh? well. if i’m going to be perfectly honest in this review, the ending took the novel down a star for me.
overall, quite good, but i’d only recommend it with some warnings as well as “buts.”