Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The Silent Land
Some writers are difficult to fit into the narrow categories we widely use to describe fiction, and Graham Joyce is one of those. His books have elements of fantasy, science fiction, suspense, a little horror, and other sub-genres, and his work can be classified as all or none of those. This should only affect you if you separate the books on your shelves according to these categories, however. What should matter instead is Joyce is one of the better writers working today. His latest is The Silent Land.
Jake and Zoe are a young married couple on a ski holiday in France. Life seems to be going well for them, and Zoe is searching for the right time to tell Jake she’s pregnant. Their luck turns when they are caught in an avalanche on the slopes. Zoe is buried and barely rescued by Jake, and then the story takes a turn into Twilight Zone territory. When they reach the resort, they find it is deserted. Apparently, it was hurriedly evacuated, with food still standing on prep tables in the kitchen. They believe this is because of danger from another avalanche, but a hike into town finds it just as deserted.
Attempts to leave the area are fruitless, as the two always end up back where they started. They discover the food left out doesn’t appear to spoil, as if time isn’t passing. At first, they make the best of having the exclusive hotel to themselves, but things go into a decline. Zoe gets garbled calls on her cell phone and glimpses eerie figures outside the hotel. They speculate they have died in the avalanche, and apprehension over what comes next begins to grow.
The story itself isn’t outstandingly original. By the halfway point of the book, you can assume it will end in one of two or three ways, and it does. Despite this, Joyce is a master at creating characters you care about, and slowly ratcheting up the tension. If you were going to call this a horror novel, and that fits as well as any other shorthand description, it would definitely be in the “quiet horror” tradition, lacking the exploding heads and other over-the-top psychodrama that fills most current horror fiction. Instead you have a growing feeling of dread, which to my mind is more effective. I found myself glancing over my shoulder when Zoe started seeing the mysterious figures, and it’s a rare book that gets to me like that. I had read about 50 pages when I opened it again at one o’clock in the morning, and, simultaneously dreading learning the fate of the young couple and needing to know it before I could sleep, I didn’t close the book again until I was finished.
If you’ve read Joyce’s brilliant previous books, you know what a good writer he is, and you won’t want to miss this one. If you’ve never read anything by him, this would make a good start. Either way, this is a book I whole-heartedly recommend.