Damb Squib

This is my review of After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld.

There is endless potential in the theme of how men may be damaged when drafted to fight in distant lands for causes which do not arouse their allegiance, like the Korean or Vietnam Wars. Unable to express their emotions, they may drift into abusive relationships and neglect their children, damaging them in turn without meaning to do so.

If this sounds bleak, it could be made gripping and moving by the quality of the prose. Many reviewers have found this to be the case here, but after struggling with this book I had to admit defeat. I liked the evocation of an unfamiliar Australian landscape and culture. It did not bother me that the key points of the story are revealed only gradually and in some cases remain unclear. I did not mind its initial slow pace, but, in terms of structure it is too meandering. Also finding the opening pages so preoccupied with mundane aspects of daily life and the inner thoughts of Leon who seemed to me to be mentally ill, I felt the need for a touch of underlying humour, even of the wry or black variety.

Although the images used are at times striking and original, I agree with reviewers who have found the writing often banal – it really irks me when an author keeps using "like" instead of "as if".

Again like some other reviewers, I found the introduction of large numbers of minor characters together with frequent switches of time and place not so much confusing as irritating. Certainly, this contributed to my not feeling as much for the main players, Leon and Frank, as I think was intended.

I was left feeling frustrated: "here's the skeleton of a good novel, but this isn't it". Having read a number of classics recently, perhaps I have set the bar too high. In view of the quite polarised reaction to this book, I wonder whether it tends to appeal more say, to young men, than to older women like me.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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