After reading Rosamund Lupton’s terrifying page-turner Sister, I had high hopes for this book. The Quality of Silence has a very original concept: a mother and daughter searching Alaska for Matt, husband to Yasmin and father to Ruby, who has gone missing in the snow whilst on a wildlife trip. He’s a photographer. Lupton evokes the Alaskan landscape incredibly well – it isn’t a place I know anything about (I’m ashamed to say) – and she does a fantastic job of painting a picture of it for the reader. The endless miles of snow, the harsh brutality of the winds, the terrifying cold: Alaska becomes a character in itself.
Ruby (in year 6 and nervous about secondary school) is a wonderful character, the high point of the book. She is profoundly deaf, and Lupton sensitively creates a child who is able to enjoy her silence; she doesn’t want to use her ‘mouth-words,’ – rather she embraces Twitter, describing her emotions as sensations (excitement tastes like fizzing sherbet, for example) and communicates largely using sign language. Her silent world is mirrored in the strange Alaskan environment, and her character rings true throughout the novel. Yasmin too is given a strong sense of being; the flashbacks to her past give us a great impression of a determined, independent woman capable of incredible bravery, and I think the novel would have struggled without these. They help us to understand why Yasmin does what she does…
The plot takes Yasmin and Ruby on a mission to find Matt, after the police inform them of a deadly fire in his village – a fire which has left no survivors. Yasmin refuses to believe that her husband is dead, so takes it upon herself to search for him herself. Much of the story is a journey – Yasmin borrows a huge ice truck and steers it through the snow, and after a while it becomes clear that they are not alone out on the ice. Blue headlights are tracking them, coming closer and closer. Somebody out there doesn’t want them to find Matt.
While I will say I had to suspend disbelief for a large part of this book, it certainly has its high points. The terror in the cab of the truck as the temperature dropped and dropped was almost palpable; Lupton creates a real sense of tension as the cold begins to invade the characters. The image of Yasmin chipping ice from the wheels of the huge truck was very vivid, as was the panicked moment in which they cut open the seats to use the interior padding as insulation.
The book addresses some key environmental issues, which I wasn’t actually expecting – but the author has clearly done her research and she exposes the corruption of the fracking industry deftly and dramatically. The best bits, though, are the quiet ones – the bond that grows between mother and daughter, their shared experiences that lead to signed stories and poignant moments. This is, ultimately, a story about love, about the lengths a person will go for somebody else, about the driving force behind human actions, and about the bonds of family in the face of impossible odds. It’s a different book from Sister, but special nonetheless.