The Quality of Silence | Rosamund Lupton | 2015 | Little, Brown | 340p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is late November and Yasmine and her daughter Ruby have arrived in Alaska to see Matt, Yasmine’s husband, Ruby’s father, a wildlife cameraman who is there to photograph the animals that inhabit the long Alaskan frozen night. But when they arrive at Fairbanks Airport, there is no sign of Matt. Instead, they are met by the worst of news. The Arctic village where Matt is based has been destroyed by fire, every soul dead, plus one extra – the body of a white man has been found not too far from Matt’s wedding ring. But, although the police might be satisfied, Yasmine is sure Matt is alive, he has to be, they have unfinished business that must be resolved. Yasmine is determined to head north to find Matt and she’s not going to let an imminent heavy storm stand in her way. With planes grounded, Yasmine has no choice but to head north by road, her young daughter by her side, travelling for hundreds of miles on the dangerous, infamous Dalton Highway, heading into the night that doesn’t end, where the cold can kill in an unguarded instant.
And so begins an epic, extraordinary journey. The Dalton Highway is as much a character as anyone else in The Quality of Silence. It’s viciously alive, beautiful in some ways, especially when the storm clouds clear to reveal a flawless sky of stars, but in most ways deadly. If the cold doesn’t get you, then the ice on the road could, its steep drops, the other trucks, the infinite dark. It doesn’t help when you can feel eyes in your back, someone is behind them on the road, following them. And then there’s the fear of what might lie ahead – is Matt alive?
The Quality of Silence is an outstanding icy thriller, packed with cold atmosphere and dark foreboding but there is something extra special about this novel and that is Ruby, the 10-year-old daughter of Matt and Yasmine. Northern Alaska is not only dark and cold, for Ruby it is also silent. She is completely deaf and the novel is as much about her perception of the world around her as it is about the hunt for her father. Half of the novel is told in the third person, providing the adult perspective. But the rest is told in Ruby’s voice, in the present tense, and this is so important to Ruby. She doesn’t use her ‘mouth-voice’ but she is driven to express herself, by typing, by blogging, by using Twitter (calling herself ‘Words Without Sounds’), and her voice is absolutely enchanting. Rosamund Lupton has achieved something wonderful with Ruby. She is adorable, funny, clever, vulnerable and so worried about her Dad, but bravely hiding it from her Mum, determined to be as sure as her Mum is that her Dad is out there, still taking photographs of the winter Arctic animals that she loves so much and tells us all about. The family unit of Matt, Yasmine and Ruby is such a powerful force in this novel and its drama is explored fully in a way that is completely absorbing as well as intriguing.
As soon as I started The Quality of Silence I fell in love with it or, more specifically, with Ruby. I cannot get enough of novels set in the Alaskan cold (especially while we undergo a heatwave) but I was completely and unexpectedly overwhelmed by Ruby. Between Ruby and the atmospheric cold wilderness, there was no way I wasn’t going to love this novel. However, I was initially concerned that the book’s central mystery wouldn’t live up to the setting and characterisation. But I needn’t have worried. I was hooked and desperate to see how everything would turn out. The mood of menace is powerful throughout, intensified by Yasmine’s drive to protect her daughter. The ending was totally satisfying and lived up to the absorbing psychological drama that played out alongside it.
The Quality of Silence could not have given me more. Beautiful writing, a wonderful young heroine, a strong mystery, penetrating and sympathetic character insight, and the most evocative chilly setting – the long Alaskan winter night. Without doubt, this is one of the hardest books to put down that I’ve read this year.
This review was written as part of the Blog Tour for The Quality of Silence. I am so proud to be involved. For other stops on the Tour, take a look at the poster below.