Set in the extreme landscape of Alaska, THE QUALITY OF SILENCEfollows the story of Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby. Yasmin arrives in Alaska to be told her husband, Matt, is dead, the victim of a catastrophic accident. Yasmin, unable to accept this as truth, sets out into the frozen winter landscape, taking Ruby with her in search of answers. But as a storm closes in, Yasmin realises that a very human danger may be keeping pace with them. And with no one else on the road to help, they must keep moving, alone and terrified, through an endless Alaskan night.
In a story that explores the very limits of human resilience, The Quality of Silence is as much about a mother learning to hear her deaf daughter as it is about their journey across the vastness of Alaska, and proves, once again, that Rosamund Lupton is a storyteller of class and elegance.
I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.
I picked this up because I am always interested in a books treatment of a Deaf character. So bear in mind, much of my perspective will be from my interest in that topic. FYI, this has previously been released, but for some reason it is being rereleased.
And the Deaf 10 year old is beautifully written. We get such fascinatingly clear insight into her perception of words and language, and it feels real to me. What I wasn’t so enamored of was how the narrative jumped between Ruby and her mother’s perspectives and Yasmin’s present and past. It was a jumble that was difficult to follow and often felt stilted and disjointed.
There’s a lot going on in this book though. There’s something very meta about Ruby’s linking of current events with her perspective of language, plus there is the relationship angst between Yasmin and Matt, and on top of that there is the mystery/thriller aspects. It is busy, so while I understand that this is literary fiction rather than genre fiction and that the author is trying to do something here, it is just too many things. I wish the author had stuck with only playing with the narrative structure with Ruby, and pared things down a bit. As it is, trying to cobble together the disparate narrative structures of the two heroines, while giving us insight that may have made Yasmin and Matt’s relationship more poignant, caused the story to drag in ways that often made reading this story a chore.
However, the portrayal of Ruby was evocative and compelling. She is what kept me reading, and I think that despite my misgivings about this book, I may recommend it to the older Deaf students in my life.
“CREEPY: looks like hands turning into jellyfish; tastes like cakes that are alive; feels: too close”
“I don’t want Mum to hear something on the radio again or on Mr. Azizi’s CB and for me not to know what’s happening till later. So I’m going to use Voice Magic. That’s what it’s called, like, “Hey, presto! I can hear and speak! Ta-da!” It’s this program I have on my laptop that turns someone’s mouth-voice into typed words on my screen. That’s the magic part. And because the screen is lit up it’s my secret weapon to hear even in the dark. Though it’s not always convenient to be carrying a laptop around. And it doesn’t work if there are lots of voices, because it scrambles them all up together. But if there’s just one person, you’re OK, so I can just imagine me on a dark night with a boy wanting to whisper lovey-dovey things to me, and I make him wait while I pull my laptop out of my enormous handbag. That’s a joke! I don’t have a handbag. And I don’t have a boyfriend. I AM TEN and I think it’s really silly that people in Year Six have boyfriends or handbags.”
Ruby is simply delightful. And as irked as I was with her mother, who was so focused on forcing her to fit into the hearing world, the “real” world, so someday others would hear her, that she refused to hear her daughter herself, in many ways it was lovely to see her learn her daughter. And relearning herself. So the meandering narrative mirrors the journey of discovery; not only of the mystery, but of relationships, and of self. But frack, it drags in so many ways. If the author had tightened things up I think the suspense would have had greater impact, driving the story as a whole.
Things picked up I guess at around 65-70% in, and from there things really moved. And we get a really poignant punch from the continued use of language from both Ruby and Yasmin as a metaphor for their lives and selves. The mixture of use of sign language, text, and voice really hit me in the feels. And I thought perhaps this would be a book I was glad I had read, even aside from my love for Ruby as a characters.
Fair warning though, the ending was left almost wholly in the air. We never find out what happened to Mr. Azizi, or Coby or secondary characters. And we don’t even get any resolution for our main characters. There were no neat resolutions and I was entirely discomfited by where things were left. If you are looking for a love conquers all, heroines prevail over the bad guys, righteous winners, etc, well this isn’t your book. And it was painful, because in spite of the irritating meanderings, or maybe because of them, you really get to know the characters, and feel for and with them, so to be cut off from them so abruptly was literally, physically painful. Consequently it isn’t my book either. I don’t necessarily require a happy ending (though I infinitely prefer them), but personally I do require resolved endings. It was what made me so nuts about Gone with the Wind, a physical pain I still feel all these decades later, and why I pined until a librarian kindly directed me to Scarlet, and why I accept that as cannon…but that is perhaps a post for another day. In any event, the plot twist at the end downgraded my overall rating even further.
I honestly want to cry, but I am also remarkably angry at how it all played out. So 2 very personal stars, mostly only that high because of Ruby. But I would add, if you can handle an ambiguous ending it is well written, and if you enjoy books that play with the actual use of language itself, not just the words but the actual use of language, then this might be your book instead of mine.