Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio play button
0:00
0:00

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice

Author Evie Wyld
Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio play button
0:00
0:00
Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
Finalist for the Orange Prize for fiction


After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank struggles to rebuild his life among the sugarcane and sand dunes that surround his oceanside shack. Forty years earlier, Leon is drafted to serve in Vietnam and finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father. As these two stories weave around each other–each narrated in a voice as tender as it is fierce–we learn what binds Frank and Leon together, and what may end up keeping them apart.
 
Set in the unforgiving landscape of eastern Australia, Evie Wyld’s accomplished debut tackles the inescapability of the past, the ineffable ties of family, and the wars fought by fathers and sons.

“Haunting and brilliant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“This surefooted and even-handed multi-layered tale is fiction writing at its best with characters so vividly drawn, they seem to literally leap off of the printed pages.” —Tucson Citizen
 
“Mesmerising. . . . A novel both taut and otherworldly. This adroit examination of loss, lostness and trauma is the beginning of great things [for Wyld].” —The Independent (London)

“A gritty novel. . . . Rough and beautiful. . . . It speaks to the muscle in Wyld’s writing, which in richly telling detail describes the experiences 40 years apart of two Australian men. . . . Wyld distinguishes herself as another fine Australian novelist.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Written in pithy, crystal-sharp prose, this is a compelling read that uses the Australian landscape to mirror its characters’ equally unforgiving emotional terrain.” —Financial Times
 
“Wyld has a feel both for beauty and for the ugliness of inherited pain. The mood is creepy–strange creatures in the sugar cane, grieving neighbors, a missing local girl–and the sentiment is plain: ‘Sometimes people aren’t all right and that’s just how it is.’” —The New Yorker
 
“A terrifically self-assured debut. . . . It’s a cauterising, cleansing tale, told with muscular writing.” —The Guardian (London)
 
“A searching study of the way war-induced damage passes from fathers to sons. . . . Uniting the disparate narratives is Wyld’ s brisk, atmospheric style and her fascination with men who commit appalling acts, but are not appalling people.” —Times Literary Supplement (London)
 
“Just sometimes, a book is so complete, so compelling and potent, that you are fearful of breaking its hold. This is one. . . . With awesome skill and whiplash wit, Evie Wyld knits together past and present, with tension building all the time. In Peter Carey and Tim Winton, Australia has produced two of the finest storytellers working today. On this evidence, Wyld can match them both.”
Daily Mail (London)
 
“A triumph of subtle, original and unsentimental writing . . . Wyld explores the restrictions and distortions in the lives of men who won’t or can’t talk through whatever is eating away at them [with] great restraint and poignancy.”
The Australian
The sun turned the narrow dirt track to dust. It rose like an orange tide from the wheels of the truck and blew in through the window to settle in Frank Collard’s arm hair. He remembered the place feeling more tropical, the soil thicker and wetter. The sugar cane on either side of the track was thin and reedy, wild with a brown husk and sick-looking green tops. The same old cane that hadn’t been harvested in twenty years swayed like a green sea. Blue gums and box trees hepped out of it, not bothered with the dieback. Once it would all have been hardwood. In the time his grandparents had lived out here, just the two of them, before the new highway, maybe then this place was a shack in the woods.The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof. He turned off the engine and sagged in his seat for a moment taking it in. There was a tweak at the back of his neck and when he slapped it his palm came away bloody.‘Home again home again diggidy dig.’He could have driven here without thinking. He could have turned the radio up loud and listened to the memorial service at Australia Zoo. They were calling them revenge killings, the stingrays found mutilated up and down Queensland beaches. He could have let his hands steer him to Mulaburry, those same roads he’d hitched along as a kid, sun-scarred and spotty, scrawny as a feral dog without the bulky calves and wide hands he had now. But never mind that, he’d still pulled over on to the slip road and smoothed out the map and read aloud the places, and he still sent his eyes over and over the landmarks, searching for the turn-offs he knew were not written down. The tension in his arms had got so strong he wanted to bust a fist through the windscreen but instead, as a road train roared by and rocked the Ute in its wake, he’d clutched the wheel, crumpling the map as he did it, feeling small tears made by his fingertips. He had gripped the wheel hard so that it burnt, and he pushed like it might relieve the feeling in his arms. But it didn’t help and then he was outside, banging his fists on the bonnet for all that he was worth, his nose prickling, his throat closed up, the bloody feel of some bastard terrible thing swimming inside him. And when he was done and spent, he had climbed back into the truck and refolded the buggered map, and when he couldn’t make it fit together he’d laughed softly and started the engine.The air outside was thick with insect noise, heavy with heat, and the old gums groaned. The padlock on the door was gone and the idea that some other bastard might have claimed the place as his own nearly made him turn round and shoo all the way back to Canberra. The whole thing was suddenly hare-brained. Tearing through drawers at home trying to find some sort of clue as to what he was supposed to be doing, he’d found an envelope witha picture of his mum in, taken on one summer holiday at the shack. There she was, hanging up a sheet in the sun, the same wide teeth as him, the same sort of boneless nose. Different hair, though – hers a blonde animal that moved in the wind. He was like his father, wiry, black, not from these parts. By her shoulder was the window and inside you could just make out a jam jar with a flower in it. It was like being smacked on the arse by God. Couldn’t have been more than a month after she was hanging up that sheet that they’d been driving in his dad’s old brown Holden when a truck hadn’t stopped at the intersection. When he woke up there was no more mum and no more old brown Holden.It wasn’t difficult getting out of the rental agreement. He’d been late and short in the last three months since Lucy left. A week from then and he was on the road, two suitcases of clothes, the rest of everything in boxes for the op-shop and the padlock keys burning his thigh through his pocket. He’d taken the first part of the journey that evening, ended up in a motel close to midnight, with a sun-faded poster of a lion eating a zebra above his bed. He hadn’t slept, he’d drunk from a three-quarters empty bottle of Old and he’d let himself think about Lucy then. The sick feeling of trying to make it all right. The endless meetings they’d had across the table, to see if there was a way round it. The months afterwards when he’d sweated if he dropped a plate, the look on her face. Careful, or I’m going. Or when the coat hangers tangled themselves and made a jangling as he shook them, her pointed silence. There were other things he thought of in that wide-awake night. Being alone, fixing himself up. Getting done with the drink, sorting through the things in his head as she’d wanted him to.He stopped the Ute and opened the door. Holding his hat on to his head, he stepped into the sound of cicadas that shrilled like pushbike bells from the cane. He slammed the door louder than he’d meant to and walked towards the shack. The smell of sweet ozone and the clump of his boots in the dust was alien. It was darker and smaller than he remembered. It tilted inwards a little like a sagging tent. He cleared his throat.‘Hey!’ he called before reaching for the door. Inside it hadn’t changed, and it made his chest tight to see. There should have been broken windows, mess left by kids, dust and leaks, mould on the walls. But there was not. The shack had a feeling about it like it’d been waiting. There were no wildflowers in jars, it wasn’t swept, there wasn’t the sparkle of sand in the cracks of the floorboards, but the placement of things was just the same. It was like the last person there could have been his grommet self fifteen years ago and it made a warmth at the back of his throat. No one was there. There were no other belongings, just the old things that had lived there for ever. On a high shelf a grey elephant, a kewpie doll and a mother-of-pearl shell. The wedding-cake figurines of his parents and grandparents that had always stood on the telephone table, dustless inside their glass bell jar. There wasno telephone – he’d forgotten that. Sat on the stack of plastic chairs in the corner, a Father Christmas with a felt body and a rubber face. The wood-burning stove that had been put together a little wrong and now and again used to chug black smoke into the room, which would have his mother up and in the doorway coughing and flapping with a tea towel. He took a step inside and heard the familiar creak of the floor. The place wouldn’t recognise him this heavy or hairy. The sink was dry, with a sprinkling of dead flies upside-down in it. The beds were there too, a double and a rickety single all close together so that as a kid he’d lain awake, wide-eyed at the sound of his parents at night, wondering what is that and why are they doing it? A thin blue and white striped blanket covered his old bed, tucked at the feet in the way he hated, where you’d have to kick your way free, so your feet didn’t pin you down.He dragged out the mattresses and afterwards he slung the bed frames in the back of the Ute. The idea of sleeping on either of them filled him with dread. The smell might be there, his mother’s hand cream, or the witch hazel his father used for aftershave, in the days before he stopped bothering. Later it was more of a flaying than grooming. There might be particles of their skin there, he might find a long blond hair and know it was not his. They were things that needed to be forgotten about, for starters.
  • WINNER | 2009
    John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
  • FINALIST | 2010
    Orange Prize
© Urszula Soltys

EVIE WYLD’s debut novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, was short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her second novel, All the Birds, Singing, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Encore Award and the European Union Prize for Literature, and it was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for Best Novel. In 2013 she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Her latest novel, The Bass Rock, won the Stella Prize. She lives in London.

View titles by Evie Wyld

About

Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
Finalist for the Orange Prize for fiction


After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank struggles to rebuild his life among the sugarcane and sand dunes that surround his oceanside shack. Forty years earlier, Leon is drafted to serve in Vietnam and finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father. As these two stories weave around each other–each narrated in a voice as tender as it is fierce–we learn what binds Frank and Leon together, and what may end up keeping them apart.
 
Set in the unforgiving landscape of eastern Australia, Evie Wyld’s accomplished debut tackles the inescapability of the past, the ineffable ties of family, and the wars fought by fathers and sons.

“Haunting and brilliant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“This surefooted and even-handed multi-layered tale is fiction writing at its best with characters so vividly drawn, they seem to literally leap off of the printed pages.” —Tucson Citizen
 
“Mesmerising. . . . A novel both taut and otherworldly. This adroit examination of loss, lostness and trauma is the beginning of great things [for Wyld].” —The Independent (London)

“A gritty novel. . . . Rough and beautiful. . . . It speaks to the muscle in Wyld’s writing, which in richly telling detail describes the experiences 40 years apart of two Australian men. . . . Wyld distinguishes herself as another fine Australian novelist.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Written in pithy, crystal-sharp prose, this is a compelling read that uses the Australian landscape to mirror its characters’ equally unforgiving emotional terrain.” —Financial Times
 
“Wyld has a feel both for beauty and for the ugliness of inherited pain. The mood is creepy–strange creatures in the sugar cane, grieving neighbors, a missing local girl–and the sentiment is plain: ‘Sometimes people aren’t all right and that’s just how it is.’” —The New Yorker
 
“A terrifically self-assured debut. . . . It’s a cauterising, cleansing tale, told with muscular writing.” —The Guardian (London)
 
“A searching study of the way war-induced damage passes from fathers to sons. . . . Uniting the disparate narratives is Wyld’ s brisk, atmospheric style and her fascination with men who commit appalling acts, but are not appalling people.” —Times Literary Supplement (London)
 
“Just sometimes, a book is so complete, so compelling and potent, that you are fearful of breaking its hold. This is one. . . . With awesome skill and whiplash wit, Evie Wyld knits together past and present, with tension building all the time. In Peter Carey and Tim Winton, Australia has produced two of the finest storytellers working today. On this evidence, Wyld can match them both.”
Daily Mail (London)
 
“A triumph of subtle, original and unsentimental writing . . . Wyld explores the restrictions and distortions in the lives of men who won’t or can’t talk through whatever is eating away at them [with] great restraint and poignancy.”
The Australian

Excerpt

The sun turned the narrow dirt track to dust. It rose like an orange tide from the wheels of the truck and blew in through the window to settle in Frank Collard’s arm hair. He remembered the place feeling more tropical, the soil thicker and wetter. The sugar cane on either side of the track was thin and reedy, wild with a brown husk and sick-looking green tops. The same old cane that hadn’t been harvested in twenty years swayed like a green sea. Blue gums and box trees hepped out of it, not bothered with the dieback. Once it would all have been hardwood. In the time his grandparents had lived out here, just the two of them, before the new highway, maybe then this place was a shack in the woods.The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof. He turned off the engine and sagged in his seat for a moment taking it in. There was a tweak at the back of his neck and when he slapped it his palm came away bloody.‘Home again home again diggidy dig.’He could have driven here without thinking. He could have turned the radio up loud and listened to the memorial service at Australia Zoo. They were calling them revenge killings, the stingrays found mutilated up and down Queensland beaches. He could have let his hands steer him to Mulaburry, those same roads he’d hitched along as a kid, sun-scarred and spotty, scrawny as a feral dog without the bulky calves and wide hands he had now. But never mind that, he’d still pulled over on to the slip road and smoothed out the map and read aloud the places, and he still sent his eyes over and over the landmarks, searching for the turn-offs he knew were not written down. The tension in his arms had got so strong he wanted to bust a fist through the windscreen but instead, as a road train roared by and rocked the Ute in its wake, he’d clutched the wheel, crumpling the map as he did it, feeling small tears made by his fingertips. He had gripped the wheel hard so that it burnt, and he pushed like it might relieve the feeling in his arms. But it didn’t help and then he was outside, banging his fists on the bonnet for all that he was worth, his nose prickling, his throat closed up, the bloody feel of some bastard terrible thing swimming inside him. And when he was done and spent, he had climbed back into the truck and refolded the buggered map, and when he couldn’t make it fit together he’d laughed softly and started the engine.The air outside was thick with insect noise, heavy with heat, and the old gums groaned. The padlock on the door was gone and the idea that some other bastard might have claimed the place as his own nearly made him turn round and shoo all the way back to Canberra. The whole thing was suddenly hare-brained. Tearing through drawers at home trying to find some sort of clue as to what he was supposed to be doing, he’d found an envelope witha picture of his mum in, taken on one summer holiday at the shack. There she was, hanging up a sheet in the sun, the same wide teeth as him, the same sort of boneless nose. Different hair, though – hers a blonde animal that moved in the wind. He was like his father, wiry, black, not from these parts. By her shoulder was the window and inside you could just make out a jam jar with a flower in it. It was like being smacked on the arse by God. Couldn’t have been more than a month after she was hanging up that sheet that they’d been driving in his dad’s old brown Holden when a truck hadn’t stopped at the intersection. When he woke up there was no more mum and no more old brown Holden.It wasn’t difficult getting out of the rental agreement. He’d been late and short in the last three months since Lucy left. A week from then and he was on the road, two suitcases of clothes, the rest of everything in boxes for the op-shop and the padlock keys burning his thigh through his pocket. He’d taken the first part of the journey that evening, ended up in a motel close to midnight, with a sun-faded poster of a lion eating a zebra above his bed. He hadn’t slept, he’d drunk from a three-quarters empty bottle of Old and he’d let himself think about Lucy then. The sick feeling of trying to make it all right. The endless meetings they’d had across the table, to see if there was a way round it. The months afterwards when he’d sweated if he dropped a plate, the look on her face. Careful, or I’m going. Or when the coat hangers tangled themselves and made a jangling as he shook them, her pointed silence. There were other things he thought of in that wide-awake night. Being alone, fixing himself up. Getting done with the drink, sorting through the things in his head as she’d wanted him to.He stopped the Ute and opened the door. Holding his hat on to his head, he stepped into the sound of cicadas that shrilled like pushbike bells from the cane. He slammed the door louder than he’d meant to and walked towards the shack. The smell of sweet ozone and the clump of his boots in the dust was alien. It was darker and smaller than he remembered. It tilted inwards a little like a sagging tent. He cleared his throat.‘Hey!’ he called before reaching for the door. Inside it hadn’t changed, and it made his chest tight to see. There should have been broken windows, mess left by kids, dust and leaks, mould on the walls. But there was not. The shack had a feeling about it like it’d been waiting. There were no wildflowers in jars, it wasn’t swept, there wasn’t the sparkle of sand in the cracks of the floorboards, but the placement of things was just the same. It was like the last person there could have been his grommet self fifteen years ago and it made a warmth at the back of his throat. No one was there. There were no other belongings, just the old things that had lived there for ever. On a high shelf a grey elephant, a kewpie doll and a mother-of-pearl shell. The wedding-cake figurines of his parents and grandparents that had always stood on the telephone table, dustless inside their glass bell jar. There wasno telephone – he’d forgotten that. Sat on the stack of plastic chairs in the corner, a Father Christmas with a felt body and a rubber face. The wood-burning stove that had been put together a little wrong and now and again used to chug black smoke into the room, which would have his mother up and in the doorway coughing and flapping with a tea towel. He took a step inside and heard the familiar creak of the floor. The place wouldn’t recognise him this heavy or hairy. The sink was dry, with a sprinkling of dead flies upside-down in it. The beds were there too, a double and a rickety single all close together so that as a kid he’d lain awake, wide-eyed at the sound of his parents at night, wondering what is that and why are they doing it? A thin blue and white striped blanket covered his old bed, tucked at the feet in the way he hated, where you’d have to kick your way free, so your feet didn’t pin you down.He dragged out the mattresses and afterwards he slung the bed frames in the back of the Ute. The idea of sleeping on either of them filled him with dread. The smell might be there, his mother’s hand cream, or the witch hazel his father used for aftershave, in the days before he stopped bothering. Later it was more of a flaying than grooming. There might be particles of their skin there, he might find a long blond hair and know it was not his. They were things that needed to be forgotten about, for starters.

Awards

  • WINNER | 2009
    John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
  • FINALIST | 2010
    Orange Prize

Author

© Urszula Soltys

EVIE WYLD’s debut novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, was short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her second novel, All the Birds, Singing, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Encore Award and the European Union Prize for Literature, and it was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for Best Novel. In 2013 she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Her latest novel, The Bass Rock, won the Stella Prize. She lives in London.

View titles by Evie Wyld

Books for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, we are sharing books by women who have shaped history and have fought for their communities. Our list includes books about women who fought for racial justice, abortion rights, disability justice, equality in the workplace, and more, with insight on their remarkable lives that inspired others to

Read more