Book Review: The Silent Land

Graham Joyce. The Silent Land.New York:Doubleday, 2011. 240 pages.

I’m back with a review of a “suspense novel” that isn’t that suspenseful, but which has its charms.

In THE SILENT LAND, a young vacationing British couple, Jake and Zoe, find themselves trapped in an Alpine ski resort, completely alone, after an avalanche. Unable to contact the outside world, they have only each other to draw on as they try to figure out just what’s gone wrong.

It’s impossible to really discuss the book without giving major spoilers, so I’m not going to go into great detail. Suffice it to say that it’s not really “suspense” in the usual sense, that there’s a ticking bomb that the hero has to defuse. It’s really more of an inter-personal meditation. Which would be OK, but we don’t really learn a ton about the book’s two characters, Jake and Zoe. I can’t remember exactly what either of them did for a living, and I don’t think we ever learn their last name. As a result, they come across as a generic early-thirties couple, without much for the reader to really grab onto. They’re really more ideas than fully fleshed-out characters.

As the book progresses, the couple’s situation veers more and more sharply from normal, and it becomes clear that something’s going on: no matter what they do, Jake and Zoe can’t get out of the village, and they begin noticing strange things happening–and not happening. But once the narrative pulls away from reality as we know it, the reader is really at the author’s mercy: anything is possible, from “a wizard did it,” to “and then I woke up.” This undercuts the book as a “suspense” novel, since the reader can’t use what he/she knows about what’s already happened to guess what’s going to happen next: the rules just change too quickly and capriciously.

Joyce is a wonderful writer, capable of truly beautiful prose. But as a narrative, THE SILENT LAND might frustrate you.

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