The Silent Land
March 29, 2011
Review by Shannon Riley
O. Henry and British Fantasy Award winner Graham Joyce has written a number of notable books, including Indigo, The Tooth Fairy and Requiem, but none more memorable and disturbing than his latest, The Silent Land. A young married couple are enjoying a ski holiday in the French Alps when without warning a sudden avalanche leaves them buried. They manage to dig themselves out and make it back down the mountain to their hotel in the resort town of Saint-Bernard-en-Haut, but there they discover that all the inhabitants are gone. The unprepared food waiting on the counter to be cooked and the half-full glasses of wine on the tables seem to indicate both guests and staff have departed in haste. Zoe and Jake are utterly alone, and as they soon discover, cut off from the outside world. In this beautiful but treacherous landscape with the threat of yet another, even larger, avalanche hanging over them, they struggle to come to terms with their new reality.
The problem is, they are unsure of what their reality really is. Food does not spoil and candles do not burn down. Time seems to have slowed down. But even more disturbing, every attempt to leave brings them back to their point of departure. The constant sense of foreboding, the white, barren landscape, the casket in the coffin builder’s cottage and Jake’s inability to taste food, bleed or feel cold all seem implications of death, and in fact, Jake comes to believe they are dead and existing in a kind of supernatural limbo awaiting an event unknown to happen next.
Soon, however, it becomes obvious that Zoe and Jack are not always able to experience the same phenomena. She sees people in the hotel lobby, and hears the ringing of her cell phone, which he cannot. Yet not even she is able to reach across the gulf between themselves and others and make contact.
Time speeds up and events become stranger and more bizarre, and metaphors of death abound. Yet amid this familiar scenario of isolation and foreboding, as the differences between the couple’s experiences become more apparent, Joyce weaves a theme of love and devotion that transcends both life and death. The emotional ending leaves the reader with as many questions as answers. The Silent Land is a powerful supernatural thriller that works well on all levels and a story of a lover’s self sacrifice that stays with the reader long after the book is closed.