If you’re looking for the book equivalent of a thriller movie, Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence is a good pick. Set in the Alaskan wilderness during an Arctic storm, the novel follows Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby as they set out in search of father Matt, a wildlife filmmaker, who they are told is among the dead in an accident. Refusing to believe it, Yasmin finds a truck driver willing to take her and Ruby up north into the Artic Circle during a raging storm. Along the way, the trucker suffers a stroke, leaving Yasmin and Ruby to continue the journey alone. She soon realizes they are being stalked by another truck and is being emailed disturbing and cryptic photos. What follows is a tense and page-turning ride to a conclusion that, while not altogether predictable, is nevertheless formulaic and not very satisfying.
The novel certainly delivers mystery and suspense in a refreshing setting: Alaska during an Arctic storm is exciting and fascinating to read. It is a well-researched and well-written book, offering clear and affecting descriptions of the harshly beautiful terrain. However, the character development and overall plot line are elementary and cliched.
Yasmin and Matt’s rocky relationship propels the story; it is the reason Yasmin sets off for Alaska. Throughout the story Lupton offers us vague flashbacks of Yasmin’s childhood and more fleshed out memories of her and Matt’s early relationship. But by the end, there is no real indication of what has caused their marital problems and why Yasmin is so emotionally charged. This is awkward given how intense Yasmin’s feelings of love and guilt are in the light of Matt’s alleged death, emotions that trump reason and push her to risk her and her daughter’s lives to find Matt. Added to that, buying into Yasmin’s character requires some suspension of belief. Being a former astrophysicist with some coursework in engineering, we’re supposed to believe she can operate an 18-wheeler truck in unfamiliar terrain during an Arctic storm after one conversation about the mechanics of it all? Admittedly I’m not an astrophysicist, but I’m not entirely convinced.
The novel’s villains are even more stock characters, barely introduced at the start of the novel and only stereotypically fleshed out towards the end, when the true cause of the catastrophe is revealed. While the novel means well with its peppered discussion of fracking and the abuses of our natural resources, it does so much too late, much too predictably, and with such little nuance that it feels like another generic rehashing of a hot-button issue.
The novel’s most original and captivating feature is 10-year-old Ruby, whose thoughts and feelings are voiced through wonderful first-person narration. Lupton’s writing is most inventive when it embodies the mind and heart of a smart and sensitive deaf girl. Ruby is as compelling as the Alaskan winter, both of which are seemingly mute and blank on the surface but whose energy, exuberance, and beauty we discover along the perilous journey.
For all its issues, The Quality of Silence is a quick and fairly entertaining read. It’s a good alternative if you can’t decide which action movie to watch. But fair warning: it’ll take you for the same ride.