Thrillingly suspenseful and atmospheric, The Quality of Silence is the story of Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, and her precocious deaf daughter, Ruby, who arrive in a remote part of Alaska to be told that Ruby’s father, Matt, has been the victim of a catastrophic accident. Unable to accept his death as truth, Yasmin and Ruby set out into the hostile winter of the Alaskan tundra in search of answers. But as a storm closes in, Yasmin realizes that a very human danger may be keeping pace with them. And with no one else on the road to help, they must keep moving, alone and terrified, through an endless Alaskan night.
The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton
Publication Date: November 15, 2016 by Broadway Books
There’s something about the wilderness and the bitter cold that can seem both beautiful and terrifying. When you think of all the dangers that come with that combination (frostbite, starvation, hypothermia, etc.) and the complete isolation of being in a place that is just too wild and remote to maintain any sort of modern civilization, it’s easy to see why people are fascinated with books and movies related to the subject. Into the Wild, The Revenant, The Terror, and everything written by Jack London are some of my favorite stories to read from the safety of my heated home in the dead of winter.
I was hoping Quality of Silence might join the shelf of cold weather favorites, but that was clearly not meant to be. While I initially felt drawn to the story, there were a lot of issues to be had with both the plot and the structure of the novel, both of which ultimately fell flat for me by the story’s finale.
For the first half of the novel, the environment and the author’s description of its unwelcoming violence keeps the story afloat. Lupton is able to maintain that underlying feeling of danger for the characters through the bitter cold temperatures and the (slightly cliched) impending snow storm.
Suddenly the blackness lightened. The clouds, blown by the harsh wind, had separated and illuminated the mountains. In the half light, she saw how high they were and the sheer drop down a precipice, barely three feet from the left side of the road. She wished it had remained dark so that she didn’t have to see the violent terrain, a scene from a gothic tale, nothing soft or hospitable, which dwarfed her into nothing.
Unfortunately, descriptions of the deadly Alaskan wilderness were not something that could keep the story going on its own. And while I did enjoy both Ruth and Yasmin’s characters, there was a lot that was so implausible about the events in the novel that even my appreciation for the mother/daughter duo wasn’t enough to keep me fully engaged.
When Yasmin and Ruby arrive in Alaska, the reader learns that this decision was made in haste after Yasmin learns of an act of infidelity that her husband, Matt, has shared with her during one of their brief,strained phone conversations.
She’d traveled halfway round the globe to tell him that he had to come home, right now, that she didn’t believe him that nothing more would happen with the Inupiaq woman and she wasn’t going to stand by on the other side of the world as this woman destroyed their family.
The woman’s name? Corazon – I’m not kidding. And Matt’s reasoning for the indiscretion of a stolen kiss?
I kissed her because I missed you.
So this is where Lupton started to lose me a bit. A woman has no choice but to take her 10 year old daughter with her to Alaska to confront her husband about kissing a woman who’s name translates to heart. While there are hints of marriage difficulties as the story progresses, I found it hard to swallow that Yasmin would need to take such drastic measures when her husband was the one who made the decision to separate from his family for months as part of a work endeavor. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like someone I’d go running after. Perhaps this piece of the story was meant to demonstrate Yasmin’s strength and perseverance, but it had the opposite effect on me in terms of logic.
Upon being told that Matt has been presumed dead after a catastrophic fire breaks out in the village he was staying, Yasmin clings to the belief that he is alive and sets out to find him. Ruby obviously adores her father and is happy to move along with her mother’s plan. Because of the remoteness of the village, they must find someone to take them as far North as possible and that’s where Adeeb Azizi’s character is first introduced.
Mr. Azizi is a refugee from Afghanistan who owns his own 18-wheeler and travels dangerous distances to deliver ready-made houses for oil workers. While I found Adeeb to be one of the more dynamic characters in the novel, I also found it interesting that Lupton would specifically choose the one trustworthy character to be from the Middle East in a land of oil rigging companies. Clearly, this was most likely meant to make a silent statement, but I found his part in the story to be too brief to have the impact it should.
Up through Adeeb’s role in the story, The Quality of Silence held me fairly captivated despite the complaints I make above. Lupton’s creation of the treacherous environment and the underlying threat that seems to come from Yasmin’s interactions with some of the men she and Ruby encounter were enough to heighten the suspense of the novel. Unfortunately, these details weren’t enough to maintain my interest once events unfolded and ended up with Yasmin suddenly able to drive an 18-wheeler in deadly conditions just because she is an astrophysicist.
Because I chose to read the second half of the novel in one sitting, I also started to notice details that became repetitive enough to make me doubt my sanity. Perhaps Lupton chose this tactic as a way to maintain the tension she initially builds when the reader learns that Yasmin and Ruby may be being followed by someone who wishes to harm them, but I found it to be extremely distracting.
Yasmin knew now that Matt had told her the truth about his wedding ring and about coming out her in winter to film wildlife, and he’d told Ruby that he could make an aputiak. She believed him now about all of it. Trusting Matt meant that he had a chance of being safe.
The above statements about the wedding ring and filming wildlife are brought up way too much during the second half of the book. Although it’s made clear that Yasmin’s hope for her husband surviving the fire is helping to keep her afloat, it was repetitive enough to irritate me. It felt like something that could have been edited down to avoid becoming so redundant.
Ultimately, The Quality of Silence showed potential in the beginning, but there was too much about the plot I found implausible to really become immersed in the story. From reading an interview with Lupton, it sounds like the idea behind this novel came from her horror of the impact the fracking industry has on not only people who live in remote areas of Alaska, but the animals and environment as well. While I know many authors often get inspiration this way, I wonder if the topic could have been dealt with in a different manner rather than masked in a psychological thriller.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.