Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wanted it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sets off a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. But there is also Jake’s past—hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present.
This story weaves between past and present quite abruptly, so, my number one tip for reading this book is, READ THE BLURB FIRST. It sounds silly, but for some reason I glazed over the blurb and didn’t really take it in. And God was I confused when I started it, because I wasn’t really sure what was happening in the present, or even which story was the present. At first I thought the main character was presently working on a sheep farm (which she is), but when we delve into her past, there is more description and dialogue and social interaction, and I thought perhaps the sheep farm plotline was actually the past. I remember flicking back and forth through the pages trying to work out how all the stories fit together.
Take note that the main character, Jake, is a female. When the reader is thrust into her past and characters refer to her as Jake, I thought this was a different character. But Jake is the main character of the entire novel, and in the present, Jake lives on a sheep farm with her Collie and her sheep. That is, until someone – or something – starts killing off her sheep.
Almost half of the book is about Jake’s past, and those chapters detail parts of her life that she desperately wants to run away from. This writing technique confuses the reader, but I think that’s the effect. I think the reader needs to be confused and hazy, because the character is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and make sense of what happened and what went wrong.
The author is also a lyrical genius, and the language she uses is rife with imagery and disjointed (but satisfying) sentences. Just marvel at the opening sentence:
Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding
You can’t not picture that sentence. It’s a little gross, and it might make you feel a little uncomfortable, but it sets the tone of the entire novel. It’s eerie and inviting and just screams LITERARY FICTION.
I recommend this novel to readers of literary fiction – readers who will appreciate the character development and the writing style, and who will understand Jake’s abrupt and at times, misguided, actions.