Review: Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton
As one of the "Richard and Judy Book Club" Spring reads (written by the author of "Sister" which became the bestselling novel of its year) referred to as a "sophisticated thriller" by The Telegraph and a book which would send "shivers down your spine" by the Guardian, I was keen to make a start on this.
Set in Alaska, it already creates a cold bleak darkness before the reader has even turned the first page. The story begins with Yasmin and her ten year old daughter Ruby, who is deaf, arriving in Alaska to give her husband an ultimatum about the future of their marriage but she is met at the airport with the news that he is dead. Refusing to accept this, she sets off with Ruby to find him braving sub zero temperatures, treacherous icy roads and then the threat of menacing headlights which drive them deeper in to the inhospitable snowstorms.
Further intensity is created by setting most of the novel in the confines of the truck cab with the company of just the thoughts and reflections of only two characters. Dialogue is limited as Ruby is deaf and refuses to use "her words" so Lupton has had to work hard to keep the passages dynamic. She attempts this by alternating between the two different voices and Ruby's use of twitter, email and her laptop to break up the text. Ruby's voice is convincing, well observed and adds a lightness and freshness needed in the darkness of the Alaskan landscape. At times I found the alternation between the two voices of Ruby and Yasmin frustrating and jerky and some of Yasmin's observations were a little clumsy and cliched.
We also get to hear the truck driver Adeeb's thoughts although I was less sure of his role in the novel - apart from the fact that he does not show any prejudice or preconceptions towards Ruby and challenges Yasmin to look at beyond the restrictions and assumptions she has unwittingly placed on her daughter.
Lupton explores lots of themes including the environment, politics, survival, love, marriage but most significantly for me was the relationship between the mother and daughter. They need this journey to reach a deeper understanding of each other and we are rewarded when Ruby explains that when she "talks with her mouth-voice, I disappear!" and "Mum nods. I can see she understands." In a landscape disappearing in snow and the hope of finding their missing husband and father fading, this is a poignant moment.
The last third of the book picks up pace and becomes more of a thriller / mystery story. More characters arrive to provide further drama, complications and revelations.
All in all it's an easy read and the emotional journeys of the two female characters are engaging. I felt it was more of an adventure / crime story than a psychological thriller and would agree with The Telegraph's comment that there were "countless implausibilities" to get to grips with which perhaps compromise the dramatic impact of the story. Amazon has rated it 4.5/5, Goodreads 3.7/5 and Waterstones an impressive 5/5. I would give it 3/5. I think the descriptions of the arctic cold will probably stay with me over the next few weeks while I don my hat, scarf and gloves on the school run and I'll remember the things Yasmin and Ruby had to do to save themselves in the plummeting temperatures although I hope I'll never have to face the harsh environment they set out to overcome!