What would you do if you were Yasmin, a brainy London astrophysicist, and your filmmaker husband was missing and presumed dead after a tragic accident in northern Alaska, where the frigid air and deepest black of night reduce survival odds to near zero? Author Rosamund Lupton offers up one frightening scenario in The Quality of Silence, a tight, claustrophobic thriller that will enclose readers in a world of cold from which there’s no escape.
The Alaskan authorities have unsuccessfully tried to convince Yasmin that her husband, Matt, is dead, and they’re calling off their search in the remote village of Anaktue, 200 miles north in the Alaska wilds where Matt was last staying. What’s more, his wedding ring has been found in the burned-out wreckage of this Eskimo settlement where a terrible explosion has wiped the place clean of anything that lives.
To those of us comfortably ensconced in our easy chairs, Yasmin’s response may seem crazy. She has no one she trusts to stay with her 10-year-old daughter, Ruby, who’s been deaf since birth, so against all reason, she and Ruby set out into the silent, endless snow in search of Matt, in the teeth of a blinding storm.
Nature, however, is not the only enemy. Anaktue is also at the center of activity for hydraulic fracturing mega-companies and big-money natural gas interests, and some very powerful human adversaries are out to stop Yasmin from reaching the village. And who, besides a long-distance trucker or two, is willing to help her?
The author evokes a sense of absolute isolation that hovers at the edge of every scene. It’s the perfect metaphor for Ruby’s world of deafness, as mother and daughter find themselves marooned in the cab of a big rig truck, where headlights beating into the wall of snow make only a small bubble of light, and where even a voice on the radio seems like a reprieve. The youngster’s unique perspective often propels the narrative: “Sometimes you see a small sign in our headlights, and it’s just an arrow pointing right or pointing left and that means Mum knows to turn the steering wheel, otherwise we might just drive off into the sky.”
Lupton uses powerful, evocative language to craft a literary novel that sets a knife-edge of danger on every page, as readers follow mother and daughter through the forbidding landscape to a heart-stopping conclusion.