Arriving in Alaska to confront her estranged husband, Yasmin and her precocious deaf daughter Ruby are instead told that the man they search for, Ruby’s father, has been killed in a terrible accident.
Unable to accept his death, the pair set out in a big-rig on the ice roads of the tundra, only to find that a very human danger might be stalking them through the dark as a storm closes in.
Such is the set-up for “The Quality of Silence,” Rosamund Lupton’s third novel.
There’s a lot to recommend about “Silence,” starting right from the basics: it’s a good story expertly told, populated by fully-developed characters and fueled with a combination of interpersonal drama and the high stakes of an uncovered conspiracy.
It takes real talent to showcase more than a hundred pages of people driving a dark highway without talking and still make it not only interesting, but often nail-bitingly intense, and Lupton delivers in spades.
Unique for the genre, the “thrill” of this thriller is rooted more strongly in the emotional conflict between family members both present and absent than it is in the external threat of a potential conspiracy.
Oh, the conspiracy is there – there’s a real danger stalking these women through the storm that keeps the tension high and steers the plot in unique and unexpected directions, but it’s not in the driver’s seat.
Instead, it’s playing navigator from the passenger side while the interpersonal drama takes the wheel, particularly the softly raging debate over whether Ruby – deaf since birth and preferring communication through sign language or computer – should be forced to communicate with her “real” voice to better fit in with her hearing classmates.
It’s an important issue for many who are hard of hearing and the resentment fostered between her and her mother as a result carries the heft of the dramatic weight.
From a technical standpoint, there’s a particularly impressive trick played with point-of-view.
Rather than being locked into a single perspective, the story bounces about in small scenes between the first-person narration of Ruby and the close third-person of the surrounding adults — usually Yasmin, but also local law enforcement, friendly truckers, and other supporting cast.
In less practiced hands this “head-hopping” would be an annoyance, a distraction that muddles the narrative and gets in the way of the story.
Here, it keeps the events fresh even while addressing exposition or backstory and helps to illustrate how the main conflict ultimately stems from Yasmin’s inability to comprehend her daughter’s world.
The use of digital media throughout also merits a mention, particularly the samples from Ruby’s creative (and sadly fictional) Twitter account “Words Without Sounds.”
These brief passages interspersed throughout the earlier chapters do a great deal in outlining Ruby’s emotions and provide additional atmosphere as the world-building settles around its narrative.
Too many authors lazily ignore modern technology where it might inconvenience their story, so to see it so well integrated is a fantastic change.
The few hiccups are mostly minor setting details that arise from the gap between research (which Lupton offers in abundance) and first-hand experience.
So, no deal breakers, especially since Lupton’s Alaska is closer to the real thing than a lot of what we see from the Outside.
“The Quality of Silence” comes absolutely recommended, offering thrills and family drama in equal measure along with some important real-world issues and emotion strong enough to take your breath away.
It hits US shelves on Feburary 16th, and shouldn’t be missed.
Addley Fannin is a freelance writer and graduate student in Northern studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter: @addleyfannin or on Tumblr atadelinecappuccino.tumblr.com.
Read the review on News Miner’s website here.