Evie Wyld is one of the successful graduates of my Creative Writing degree*, so I’ve kinda grumpily avoided her work due to, for want of a cohesive single word, jealousy and resentment. Having written off my hopes and dreams, though,I am now free to explore her small and highly-acclaimed oeuvre with only a minimal sense of overriding despair.
Everything is Teeth is Wyld’s third book, and her first that is not a novel. This is, instead, a graphic memoir**, with art by Joe Sumner. The piece is about sharks, specifically about Wyld’s relationship with sharks as a child. Wyld – or the Wyld of the text, anyway – is half Australian, and often spends holidays with her mother’s family on the hot antipodean coast. Down there, far from the ball-collapsing chill of the North Sea, the water is full of life. Snapper, tuna, stingrays, jellyfish, salmon, porpoise, whales and, most significantly, sharks. All the locals – Wyld’s family included – have shark anecdotes, stories about close calls as youths, about giant toothy fish swimming beneath them in tiny boats, about being circled whilst alone in the water, about finding sharks dead, washed up on the shore, as well as coming across whales and other, nicer, creatures torn up, their carcasses gaping after they’ve been feasted upon and rejected by a shark, a cruel and hungry animal.
Wyld is scared of sharks – scared of her mother and brother being attacked in the water, scared of being attacked herself, scared of sharks getting into her uncle’s swimming pool, scared of sharks floating through fields like they’re water. The images in the book are of two types – most people are drawn in a cartoonish style (reminiscent of the art in Persepolis) whereas all sharks, all fish, all other sea life and any wounds given to people by sharks are drawn in a vivid, photorealist colour. Real sharks menace the cartoonish child, very real sharks rendered by imagination that threaten and overwhelm the English child in the Australian wild.***
It’s also about growing up, too. About realising the weaknesses of ones parents, about understanding the complexity of your siblings, about understanding the unknowability of nature. Wyld’s father takes her to a museum about sharks where her fear changes; seeing the animals’ villainisation in a museum run by a “shark hunter”, she comes to an awareness of sharks as alive and not evil, merely functioning as they are meant to: not cruel, as the shark hunters are, but animal, natural, untameable. She grows as a person, being particularly revolted by the sight of her uncle cutting open the belly of a shark he has caught and pulling out loads of baby sharks. This page, drawn with a stark, bloody cruelty is possibly the most arresting image in the book, the torn, fatty flesh of the pregnant shark rendered in detail. These “puppies” are then taken home and barbecued. I was expecting some kind of vegetarian epiphany, but this doesn’t happen. Wyld decides sharks are not evil, but continues to eat them. We fast forward a decade or two and we see her as an adult with a family, sharks still an important intellectual part of her life, and then all is gone. The ending is soft, but it’s meant to be. Everything is Teeth isn’t about anything shocking or unexpected – the shark attack Wyld fears never happens, the only human death we see is gentle and in a bed. This is a subtle piece that is very moving in its starkness, and charming in its content overall.
As for me, I hate sharks and all other non-mammals with teeth. I don’t eat meat (which includes fish, that always fucking includes fish), so feel more morally centred when I say the following: I would like all snakes, sharks, crocodiles, alligators and lizards over 20cm long to be culled, on mass, as they add nothing to the world bar danger. And there is, I believe, danger enough.
* Obviously, I’m one of the unsuccessful ones. In every way that matters, in my opinion, though not really in any ways that matter to people who don’t have creative writing degrees.
** I don’t know how truthful it is. For example, I know Wyld’s brother, so unless she has others and has pretended the one I know doesn’t exist, he’s managed to hide the fact that he has three children very, very well for about two years.
*** The problem with Wyld being a literary novelist is that she is above making any of the GREAT puns on her name that would’ve been appropriate titles for this book.