Friday, 26 November 2010

‘The Silent Land’ – Graham Joyce (Gollancz)

As much fun as high octane military sci-fi can be (and it is), you have to be careful not to overdose on the stuff. One book too many and you run the very dangerous risk of breaking out in state of the art body armour and wondering what the girl you left behind on Earth is up to... I recognise the symptoms only too well so knew when it was time to put the Black Library books down and go for something completely different instead.
And you can’t get a lot more different than Graham Joyce, fine purveyor of literature that sits in your head and messes with your brain for days after you’ve finished reading the book. That’s what happened with me when I read ‘The Tooth Fairy’ way back in 2008. Here’s a book that you can’t really say is ‘enjoyable’ as such but it’s certainly one that you can’t help but chew on and, in that sense, it is a more than satisfying read. After finishing ‘The Tooth Fairy’ I somehow never got round to reading any more of Joyce’s work and the arrival of ‘The Silent Land’ prompted me to rectify matters there! As with ‘The Tooth Fairy’, ‘The Silent Land’ isn’t an enjoyable read as such but it does give you plenty to chew on...

Zoe and Jake are on a romantic skiing break when they become caught right in the middle of an avalanche. They manage to escape relatively unhurt and return to their hotel only to find that the entire village is completely empty. Reasoning that the village has been evacuated, Zoe and Jake attempt to make their way down the mountain only to find that various routes all lead them right back to where they started. Ensuing hallucinations and weird occurrences lead them to believe that perhaps they never survived the avalanche but if this is the case, what happens next...?

‘The Silent Land’ is a very short tale (seriously, a ‘blink and you might just miss it’ two hundred and forty eight pages long) of true love that is put to its ultimate test. It had me gripped throughout and there may have even been a couple of moments where I had to pretend that there wasn’t a tear in my eye. What the book also was though was a book with an ending that I saw coming from a mile off, possibly far earlier than it should have been apparent.

Now, part of me wonders if the ending wasn’t so much the point as it was the interactions and changing relationship between Zoe and Jake as they make sense of their surroundings. The growing sense of inevitability, that the clearly signposted ending brings, does push Zoe and Jake’s relationship to it limits and in interesting new directions from time to time. By leaving the ending in no doubt, you can argue that Joyce leaves his readers free to concentrate on the really cool stuff instead. It might just be me though but what I found was that this foreshadowing really took the sting out of the tale for me; I’m one of those folks who doesn’t like to have the ‘big reveal’ sprung on them right until the end (or at the very least, just before) so to know what’s looming on the horizon did make me wonder why I was continuing to read at times...

That reason became very apparent early on though. Like I said, Joyce leaves his readers free to concentrate on the cool stuff and there is more than enough of this to keep a reader like me very happy indeed.

While Joyce may leave the ending in no doubt, all the clues that go towards that ending are immediately engaging and very mysterious, you’ll know how it all ends but what you’ll spend the time on is working out how all these clues fit together in the final puzzle. That what was happened with me as I spent time musing over things like how only Zoe could hear her mobile phone ringing... When the answers come, everything slides together perfectly and it all makes sense. Perhaps the delivery of that final revelation comes across as a little flat but, again, that’s almost beside the point. It’s all about Zoe and Jake and how they come to terms with their situation.

Zoe and Jake’s relationship is the focal point of the story and it is refreshing to see the direction that it travels in over the course of the book. Instead of moving their relationship from one point to another, Joyce reflects how relationships play out in real life by throwing Zoe and Jake’s relationship hither and yon whilst battering it with various revelations. The more things change the more they stay the same though and you are left in no doubt as to how these two people really feel about each other. This approach lends a real sense of loss to those final pages; a feeling that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

‘The Silent Land’ is a novel that is perhaps signposted a little too clearly to be really effective but makes up for this in a number of smaller (but still important) ways. It’s certainly a novel that has left me eager not to miss out on any of Joyce’s work in the future.

Eight and a Half out of Ten


noothergods said...

Sounds like a novel that should be worth reading, thanks.

Carmen Wing said...

Another that is already on my wishlist. I loved this review so if Santa isn't kind I may just have to treat myself in the New Year :)

Mrs Suvi said...

I looooved this book! Something so haunting about it..