By Graham Joyce
Published by Orion Books
During their holiday in the French Alps, one morning Zoe and Jake are hit by an avalanche while skiing. They are fortunate enough to survive and they slowly make their way back to their hotel, which, with its lit-up windows and promise of warmth, appears like a mirage to the traumatised couple.
They soon find out, however, that the hotel is deserted. Food is out on the kitchen counters, the logs in the fireplaces are ablaze but there is no-one around. They also realise that the phones are not working and that both the TV and the radio emit nothing but static. They come to the conclusion that everyone has been evacuated due to the risk of further avalanches and they feel even luckier to have survived. Being cut off from the world doesn’t seem too bad in comparison to what could have happened. In fact, despite still being shocked by their near-death experience and completely exhausted, the new situation is almost romantic.
It is when they recover from their ordeal and are ready to leave their hotel and the equally deserted village that the problems begin. Cars break down, compasses stop working, paths lead them in circles, snow falls heavily. They feel disoriented and disconcerted but it is only as they start observing odd changes to their environment and even in themselves that the panic sets in. Panic and a possible yet surreal explanation to all that they’re experiencing: they have died in the avalanche.
Once this hypothesis - that many readers will no doubt have already considered - is there on the page, black on white, there is no going back. Is it possible that they're dead? A lot of things would make sense if that were true but others would remain inexplicable. Will Zoe and Jake have to spend the rest of their non-life on those skiing slopes? The questions are many and they might never be answered.
Once I picked up The Silent Land and started reading, I wasn’t able to put it down until I had finished it. On the one hand, I was obviously eager to know more about the couple’s fate. On the other hand, I was totally captivated by the story-telling ability of the author and the smart way in which his narration seems to move incredibly slow or incredibly fast according to the characters’ perception of passing time.
Not to mention that, despite the unreality of their situation, Zoe and Jake are extremely easy to empathise with and descriptions of the landscape are so vivid that it doesn’t matter if, like me, you’re reading this novel on a sunny day at the beach and you have never skied in your life. This book has everything it needs to be successful, including an extraordinary ending that won’t fail to amaze.