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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Today's New Release: "The Quality of Silence" by Rosamund Lupton

2.5 Stars
Having read and enjoyed Lupton’s previous novels, Sister and Afterwards, I was excited to read her new release.  Though the book is suspenseful, I found too much suspension of disbelief is required and that definitely dampened my enjoyment. 

Yasmin and her ten-year-old daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska where they plan to meet Matt for Christmas.  Matt, Yasmin’s husband and Ruby’s father, is a wildlife filmmaker.  When they arrive in Fairbanks, they learn that there was an explosion and fire at Anaktue where Matt was living; everyone was killed.  Yasmin is even given Matt’s wedding ring which was found at the scene of the disaster.  Yasmin refuses to believe Matt is dead and sets off with Ruby, who was born with total hearing loss, to find him.  She commandeers an 18-wheeler and heads north in total darkness, encountering a blizzard with hurricane force winds while being followed by a threatening tanker truck. 

There are several unrealistic events.  It is unlikely that a wildlife photographer would go north of the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter to take photos when 24 hours of darkness is the norm.  Then Yasmin is able to drive an 18-wheel, 40-ton truck with no previous experience other than watching a truck driver:  he “navigated around hairpin bends and down hills more like ski runs than a road, Yasmin focusing on the drive axles and the air-actuated clutch and how power flowed to the tires without any differential action, giving each wheel all the torque the road permitted.”  It is emphasized that she is an astrophysicist who has some knowledge of “the engineering part of physics,” as if this is supposed to explain her adeptness.  At home, she drives “a Toyota Auris, which is quite small” but she manages to drive a truck carrying a pre-fab house hundreds of miles - though putting her foot on the pedal is “a stretch even with the seat as far forward as it would go.”  A foot of snow falls in two hours, but between the poor visibility and the blizzard conditions she manages to drive the highest mountain pass in Alaska?  Because “she understood the mechanics of driving the truck,” she manages the gear stick with ease, knows when she has to chip ice and snow off the tires, and puts on tire chains with a minimum of difficulty?  She knows there is sufficient “diesel to reach Deadhorse” but she doesn’t refuel there and continues on?  And a supposedly intelligent woman would take her much-loved daughter on such a dangerous journey? 

There are some unanswered questions.  What happened to the taxi plane Matt was supposed to take?  A survivor in the region of Anaktue would not see a search-and-rescue plane?  People would not be aware of 22 fracking wells about 40 miles downriver, even though it takes “five million gallons” of water “to frack a single well”?

The novel is narrated from two perspectives:  Yasmin’s in the third person and Ruby’s in first person.  It is Ruby’s viewpoint that is interesting.  She provides a unique voice.  At one point she talks about a 507-year-old mollusk that was discovered; she says, “A Tudor mollusk!  Some things are just catch-your-breath amazing.”  Unfortunately, Ruby seems very precocious for her age at some times but then she uses such childish slang like “super-coolio” over and over again.

What I enjoyed about the book is Yasmin’s character change.  She comes to learn about herself.  For instance, she comes to realize that she changed after the birth of her daughter, so much so that “she’d lost the idea of herself” and “had been missing herself as she used to be.”  She realizes she is the reason for the distance that has developed with Matt.  She also learns more about her daughter. She is constantly asking Ruby to speak using her “mouth-voice” which Ruby does not like doing.  Only later does Yasmin understand Ruby’s fear that when she talks, she disappears:  “’When I sign or type I see the same words as the person I’m talking to. . . . But if I speak with my mouth, then only the hearing person hears my words.  I don’t.’”

There is considerable suspense during the trip along the ice road.  In the last quarter of the novel, however, the tension disappears.  The tone becomes didactic so the book ceases to be a mystery and becomes an environmental treatise.

The novel succeeds in conveying the oppressive cold and darkness, but there are too many instances of unrealistic plotting.  A drop-dead gorgeous astrophysicist becomes an ice road trucker?  We can understand her motivation - that she “couldn’t bear for Ruby to suffer the appalling bereavement of losing a parent, the terrible violence of that grief” - but would she really behave so irresponsibly as to put her daughter’s life at risk?  I can’t get past the lack of realism, though other readers more able to suspend disbelief will undoubtedly enjoy the suspense.

Note:  I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.