I am not one to judge a book by its cover, but that is what first caught my attention when it comes to The Quality of Silence. At first glance, it looked like some kind of brightly lit altar in a snowy landscape. A closer look revealed it to be the bottom half of a truck, headlights illuminating an icy road, but leaving everything else to the imagination of the observer. And just like that, I was hooked.
The book begins with Yasmin and her daughter Ruby arriving at Fairbanks airport in Alaska. Yasmin is here to confront her husband Matt, a wildlife photographer, who she suspects is having an affair with an Inupiaq woman. Ruby wants to spend time with her father, exploring the Arctic wildlife and work on a blog that she and her father have decided to write together. They are met at the airport however, not by Matt, but by the police who tell Yasmin that Matt is dead. Anaktue, the village in which he is believed to have been staying, has been razed to the ground, all its residents dead and no survivors have been found. In spite of receiving proof in the form of Matt’s wedding ring, recovered from among the ashes, Yasmin refuses to believe that her husband is dead. Afraid that her husband is out there somewhere in the Arctic winter, and frustrated that no one believes her enough to look for him, Yasmin sets out on a rescue mission, into an Arctic storm along with Ruby.
The rest of the book is a road trip peppered with increasingly troubling questions –is Matt really alive, or are Yasmin and Ruby in denial? How will they survive the hostile Arctic winter? Who is ending Yasmin pictures of dead Arctic animals and why? Who is stalking them in the cold and dark?
The book is a thoroughly chilling narrative, almost to the point of transforming into a physical sensation. The numbing cold is a theme that runs through the book, describing not only the weather, but also the “frozen” quality of the relationship between Matt and Yasmin; and the desolate chill that comes from being “alone” and misunderstood (in Ruby’s case).
Most books in the genre require a suspension of disbelief, but one wonders if The Quality of Silence demands too much. It is difficult the accept that a mother would drag her child into such a dangerous situation or that driving an eighteen wheeler through a treacherous landscape is possible for an amateur guided purely by the “power of love”. If one accepts these however, one embarks on a truly memorable adventure.
One sees the world in The Quality of Silence through two viewpoints- Yasmin’s and Ruby’s. Ruby’s first person narratives are innocent and poetic. In the best traditions of books that use a child’s voice, Ruby’s perspective is unique and forces us adult readers to look at things we take for granted in a new way. Also, through Ruby who is Deaf, Lupton gives us a closer look at Deaf culture.
Yasmin, in comparison to Ruby, seems a less “alive” character, but provides the “adult” perspective on a difficult situation. Dangers that Ruby is blissfully unaware of are hulking monsters in Yasmin’s mind. What Yasmin believes is important for Ruby is what Ruby finds negating of her own existence. This contrast in POVs is interesting and makes a great scaffolding for the story.
The last three chapters seem a bit rushed after the long journey that the reader has just been on. It feels like breathing too fast after having held one’s breath till one is blue in the face. However, this section answers all the questions and leaves no loose ends. It would have benefited from a slower, more graceful unraveling though.
Imagine a winter snowstorm, the wind whistling menacingly through the black heaviness outside. Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence is the perfect read for such a night. As the time the storm rages, one has the warmth of a good story.
FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.