“THE SILENT LAND” – GRAHAM JOYCE
Yet another thoroughly gripping thrill-ride from the master of suspense, British novelist Graham Joyce, “The Silent Land” pits a guy called Jake and his wife against their own wits as they try to deduce whether or not they were both killed in an avalanche. For sure, nothing’s been quite the same since they both became trapped beneath a fresh fall of snow. The fact that there’s nobody else in their hotel is the first thing to unnerve them, especially since there had been a great many occupants before the early morning avalanche. Presuming that the rest of the hotel’s guests have been warned to flee in case of a secondary avalanche, the bewildered couple attempt to overcome their shock, conspiring to walk out of danger by heading out of town.
Given the serious nature of their predicament, they figure that ‘borrowing’ somebody else’s car won’t be frowned upon to too much of an extent. As it happens, they wind up taking a police car. It’s just a shame that they don’t get very far before they crash it into a precarious position on the edge of a sheer overhang. Begrudgingly, they trudge back to their eerily quiet hotel, hoping to be able to trek out on-foot the following morning. Sticking to their guns, they do all in their power to put distance between them and the hotel, yet each route they pursue eventually drives them right back around to Square One. It seems there’s no escape.
Not for a single moment does Joyce let up with the suspense as the married couple’s attempts to escape the region become increasingly frantic in nature. Even when they dare to ski over the ridge into the neighbouring valley, Fate sees to it that they’re returned to where they began earlier in the day. As the days pass by, they gradually accept the very real possibility that they’re trapped between worlds, hung-up between states of being: not quite dead, but certainly not alive.
By subjecting the couple to a series of disorientating dreams and visions, Joyce cleverly explores the way in which fear can be embraced with the correct kind of mindset. Indeed, once they realise that they’ve got the hotel to themselves, they begin to loosen up and make the most of the freedom they’ve been granted. With an abundance of fresh food and champagne at their disposal, they wisely view their situation through rose-tinted glasses… at least for a short while – until Jake’s wife starts to hear voices.
As in his sensationally engaging novels Some Kind of Fairy Tale and Smoking Poppy, Joyce peppers the plot with as many beautifully staged moments as chilling ones. The snow-laced landscapes drip with aesthetic purity, framing the young lovers’ desperate attempts to ascertain the truth about what’s happened to them with breathtaking impact. Triumphing in being entertaining, philosophical and witty in one fell swoop, “The Silent Land” literally reads like a dream, and only as the end nears does the whole truth and nothing but manifest in the most satisfying manner.
All in all, what begins as a perfect ski-break in France degenerates into an ungodly holiday from hell – and that’s to put things finely…