Evie Wyld was brought up in Australia and the UK – she now lives and works here in London. Her work is highly regarded here and she has been nominated for numerous literary prizes. In 2013 Granta included her in their Best of Young British Novelists list. In Australia, though, her reputation is huge. Her previous novel All The Birds, Singing won Australia's prestigious Miles Franklin prize, and last week The Bass Rock won the $50,000 Stella Prize (which exists to champion and celebrate women's writing). They sum it up as 'a novel that weaves together the lives of three women across four centuries. It explores the legacy of male violence and the ways in which these traumas ripple and reverberate across time and place for three central female characters. Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life.'
In some ways it's quite a demanding book. You realise you are reading about three women connected through the generations, but it's not obvious exactly how, and the author doesn't spell it out. Gradually as you get to know the characters and a sense of their stories you work out the links. It's also a book with a strong focus on violence against women that makes for unsettling reading – for a while I wasn't exactly relishing picking it up.
But I'm increasingly drawn into the story of the middle character, Ruth, stepmother to two boys and living in a grand but isolated house on the Scottish coast. You quickly learn to loathe husband Peter who has effectively acquired a babysitter with his new bride and shows little in the way of love and affection towards her. The local villagers, meanwhile, led by the parish priest are incredibly sinister in a Wicker Man type way. I'm hooked, now, just to find out what happens. Meanwhile in the present day Viviane is grieving the loss of her father and trying to make some sense of her chaotic life, and I currently have no idea where that thread is going.
I love the way Wyld's sentences seem to contain worlds within themselves sometimes. The characters are vivid and leap off the page, and the setting brilliantly evoked. You could be walking on the cold beach, looking at the rock, but you can never relax – you might stumble over a dead shark or worse, a corpse. That sense of needing to be wary embodies the underlying threat, ever-present, to these women from male control and potential violence.
Often an ending can really make or break a book. I'm hoping Wyld is going to deliver something that makes the mild trauma of reading the first half of the book worthwhile – I'll let you know. In the meantime, if you're looking for beautifully written, unsettling, immersive fiction, I think this is just the ticket.
Buy The Bass Rock from Bookshop.org
In addition to writing novels Evie Wyld also part-owns and works in a bookshop in Peckham called Review. Here's a list of novels she recommends over on their Bookshop.org page.