2 star review, Miscellaneous

Review – The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

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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.

The Quality of Silence

3 star review

Review – The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Improbability of Love

A smart, sweeping novel–at once satirical and moving–about love, a famous lost painting, and a dark secret from the past, set in the London art world.

Annie McDee, thirty-one and recovering from the end of a long-term relationship, is chef for two sinister art dealers. She’s just spent her meager savings on a dusty junk-shop painting for her new, unsuitable, boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show up for his birthday dinner, it becomes hers. And amazingly, the painting speaks–though only we hear “him.” Shrewd, spoiled, charming, world weary, and cynical, he comments, from his unique perspective, on Annie and the modern world, but he also recounts tales of his previous owners: Louis XV, Voltaire, and Catherine the Great, among them. Once it becomes known that Annie has the painting–whose provenance involves the Nazis–she finds herself at the center of a frantic, and sometimes fiendish, scramble among dealers, collectors, and other highly interested parties, for its ownership. It’s a dazzlingly irreverent and entertaining many-layered tale of a devious world where, however improbably, love will triumph.

I received a copy of this book via Penguin First to Read. This does not affect my opinion or the content of this review.

To be honest I don’t even remember requesting this one. It isn’t in my usual milieu. And I am depressingly late in getting to this. Somehow it slipped from the queue and I only just noted I’d missed it. It seems appropriate that this should pop back up now when I have been pondering literary fiction, because this is indeed categorized as literary fiction, though honestly I might have called it upmarket.

In the prologue we are thrown into the rarefied world of high end art auctions. We first meet the impoverished earl who has set the whole thing up and is instructing his employees on how best to drive up the bidding. Then we run through a kaleidoscope of snippets of the people who will do almost anything to obtain this priceless work of art. This actually is the beginning of the end.

Jumping back to the start of the story, we then meet Annie in the first chapter, and we meet the painting in the second. It is much odder to have one of your characters be a painting than I’d thought it might be.

Poor Annie is miserable in her new life since her unexpected divorce. Dead end job, worse dating prospects, she buys the panting on a whim for her date. The poor painting isn’t any happier where he’s ended up.

Kaleidesope though seems to be the name of the game. We keep jumping from one character to the next. Getting to know their fears and their dreams. And it simply immediately clear what their connection is to the story.

But we always come back to Annie and The Improbability of Love. Frankly I wish we’d stayed with those two characters more. But that is a particular foible of mine. I tend to prefer the relationship aspects of a book when action is not available. This book for the most part hadn’t much in the way of action, and really it didn’t focus on a single relationship. This book is about people and the relationships, known and known.

Biggest advice I can give anyone looking at this book (which oddly enough I do recommend) is to slow down and dive in. This author has created such a rich and immersive setting, which much like the kaleidoscope I keep mentioning, is a restrictive setting, but filled with innumerable pieces, and you turn the story this way and it forms one picture, and that way it forms another picture. It is fascinating. So just sit back and let the colors and shapes of their lives flow over you, turn the story this way and that to see what fascinating pictures you can make. The author has left us with a wealth of material to work through.

Personally, that is the hardest thing for me. I am inclined to race through books in an attempt to gobble everything greedily tight this minute. But even with my breakneck nature, no matter how I tried to race through, the kaleidoscope would turn and it would force me to stop and take a longer deeper look.

Honestly, I’d say this story has very little to do with Annie at all. She one small piece of the kaleidoscope, the mirror system perhaps, but still just one part. She is the simply the reflection upon which everyone else’s story was told. A story of desperation, greed, avarice, and love. But it wasn’t Annie’s story.

You’ll probably not believe me, but I’ve worked on this review as I read the story, and the kaleidoscope metaphor was my own. Turns out the author thought so too:

“While she waits, visions from her life, good and bad, float in front of her like patterns in a kaleidoscope, but when she tries to remember an incident in any detail, it evaporates.”

How’s that for something strange?

What is stranger to me is the blurb. Go back up there and read it again. It sincerely sounds like a romance novel blurb. There’s no getting around it. But it is also categorized as literary fiction. It is in fact literary fiction, there’s no getting around that either.

So what does that mean? Is this really what the author and/or publisher feels describes the book best? I really don’t think it does and I suspect that it is an attempt to tap the romance reader market. The line between genre fiction and literary fiction (though honestly literary fiction is in itself a genre) is a funny one. And it depends very much on how one defines the disparate elements.

Would I have even contemplated reading it with a more accurate blurb? No I probably wouldn’t have. Did I enjoy it? Yes I did. But this isn’t romance, it has a romance happily ever after appended rather clumsily to the end of it, but it isn’t a romance. Would I recommend it to romance readers? That is a more difficult question to answer, I’d say it depends on the reader’s tastes. If I did, I would be sure to carefully note it isn’t a romance, because the one thing most romance readers, whether they also enjoy literary fiction or not, have in common is that they despise being deceived to lied to.

The Improbability of Love: A novel