Fetch your duvet now! Don’t forget your mittens, scarfs and bobble hats! Now are you ready for one of this years best books? Prepare yourself as you head into the dark frozen world of remotest Alaska.
‘The Quality of Silence’ begins innocuously enough as Yasmin and her daughter, Ruby, both from the UK, land in Fairbanks, Alaska. They are en route to meet her husband, Matt who as a wildlife film photographer, is working in the far north of Alaska.
Immediately on landing Yasmin learns that a catastrophic incident has killed her husband. Yasmin refuses to accept this and despite protestations from the police she is prepared to go to any lengths to find him.
Yasmin and Ruby, a deaf but highly intelligent 10-year-old, join a truck driver heading North where temperatures regularly plummet to below 50 degrees centigrade and where darkness is the winter norm. Soon Yasmin finds herself in charge of the rig and the search for Matt proves dangerous not only because of the conditions but also because of a mysterious threatening truck driver following them.
As the venture continues the quest becomes not just one for Matt but also develops into a search for herself, for the woman and mother she is and wants to be, for the memories of the love and relationship with Matt; the very ones she realises she now wants to rediscover.
Ruby’s experiences are evocatively and lyrically narrated in the first person. Her close fun-loving relationship with her father shines as a beacon throughout the book. I love the chapter beginnings of Ruby’s twitter messages where, on her father’s urgings, she writes how words feel, taste and look to her, the closest way she has to relating to meaning of words.
One such feed reads:
‘EXCITEMENT: Tastes like space dust & popping bubble gum; feels like the thud-bump of a plane landing; looks like the big furry hood of Dad’s Inupiaq parka.’
Furthermore through Ruby, who has ‘listened’ intently to her father’s life in Alaska, we learn of the inuits, their lives, the stunning Alaskan nature.
Yasmin’s story is in the third person but no less intimate. Her biggest fear has been of Ruby’s non-integration into society as her daughter’s refusal to vocalise words has become a battleground between Yasmin and Matt.
On a national level we learn of the attacks against the energy companies as eco-warriors use at times ferocious methods to thwart the the companies who believe they have an innate right to drill and frack in Alaska.
Lupton deftly weaves all these strands into an intense high-octane adventure. As Ruby increasingly finds her own unique voice, the reader is drawn further into the darkness, fear and despair. Nothing is quite what it seems.
I read this book in two days. Whilst I hate the overused term ‘unputdownable’; this book was exactly that. With good intentions I would close the book, returning it to the table before deciding no, I would read just one more chapter.
As I was enthralled and gripped by Lupton’s first novel, ‘Sister’, I had high hopes for this book. It did not disappoint but rather surpassed my expectations.
It has been an honour to be able to review this book. So do buy it, read it and be immersed. Oh, but don’t forget to make a hot chocolate before you start reading. You’ll need it.
Publisher: Little Brown
Publish date: 2nd July 2015
Price: Hardback: £ 13.48 (amazon quoted prices)
Kindle: £ 5.03 (amazon quoted prices)
‘A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.’
NB. Painting courtesy of M. Ivarson