I have just spent the last two weeks working in the publicity department at Oxford University Press. This was awesome mainly because it was finally a step in the right direction having spent months applying for work experience and jobs fruitlessly.
The only downside was the commute. Outer London to Oxford is a long way. Oxford is apparently not designed for visitors and so I was advised straight away not to drive in. I spent the first two days getting the train in from Reading, staying with my future mother-in-law and then discovered the coaches that run between Oxford and London.
Convenient, yes, but long. This did, however, give me plenty of opportunity to get some reading or in this case, listening, done.
The Quality of Silence caught my attention because it is set in Alaska, a strange reason maybe but I have read a few books set in Alaska, The Snow Child being the one that first comes to mind, and I’m kind of fascinated by the idea of a story taking place in such a barren landscape.
This book is all about that. It tells the tale of a small English family whose lives get turned upside down quite understandably when the father goes missing.
The mother is a highly intelligent and very beautiful (of course) astrophysicist and the father a wildlife photographer on a job in Alaska. He was staying in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere when reports come in to civilisation that the whole village has been blown up in some freak accident.
The story is all about the mother and her daughter determinedly going out to find the father, believing he can’t possibly be dead. The twist is that the little daughter, called Ruby, is deaf which gives an extra dimension to the story telling as the narrative is split between Ruby and her mother.
It is ripe with conspiracy theory and political comment as much of the ordeal concerns fracking. Now, I don’t pretend to fully understand what the big controversy is about fracking but I know it’s a somewhat contentious issue. Ordinarily I roll my eyes as soon as an author has used their book to make this sort of ‘point’ but there’s more to The Quality of Silence than just this so I stuck with it.
The landscape of Alaska is a character in itself in this book, constantly at odds with the human characters. It is vast and terrifying and makes all that Ruby and her mother (Yasmin) face a hundred times worse.
The fact that Ruby is deaf is interesting; it adds an extra layer at some crucial junctures in the plot. I kind of hate that Yasmin is a beautiful astrophysicist though, I mean… why? It reads very much as a unique trait the author has given her central character to make her strong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving that she’s an astrophysicist, but is her appearance really important? She is said to hide her intelligence when meeting new people as she thinks it will intimidate them or something? It’s just a bit strange.
The plot itself is not predictable, but it’s also not earth shattering either. I had hopes that it would be a wonderfully complex ending and it really wasn’t. It was satisfying but not necessarily in a good way.
The main flaw is that much of it is just so unbelievable and overly convenient. Yasmin and Ruby manage to drive for miles and miles in the pitch black of the intimidating Alaskan landscape all the while being chased down by an unknown vehicle. I mean, you are constantly aware of the danger they are in but is it not a form of child mistreatment to bring her along on such a venture? And why is she so convinced he’s still alive in the first place? The story mentions a phone call that is then supposedly explained away by the local police, but ultimately it tries to sell it as ‘she just knows’ in a wifely, telepathic sort of way. There are also plot points that are just somewhat unnecessary too such as the marriage problems the couple have been having recently. It’s just a bit much and don’t even get me started on the ending.
As an audiobook it was a good listen. I usually sort of hate child voice actors as they can be quite shrill and although I got sick of hearing her say ‘awesome-sauce’, this one wasn’t too bad. The woman reading as Yasmin was good too. She was very emotive and convincing as a wife in a heap of distress at the prospect of losing her husband.
I’m not sure about this one. If you’re after a relatively gripping adventure with a beautifully realised child character but adults who lack some depth then give it a go.